Wednesday, September 19, 2018


BlacKkKlansman / BlacKkKlansman
    US © 2018 Focus Features. Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures present in association with Perfect World Pictures a QC Entertainment / Blumhouse production – a Monkeypaw / 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks production – A Spike Lee joint.
    P: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, Shaun Redick.
    D: Spike Lee. SC: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee – based on the book Black Klansman (2014) by Ron Stallworth. CIN: Chayse Irvin – colour – 2,39:1 – shot on 35 mm and 16 mm – digital intermediate 4K (master format) – release: D-Cinema. PD: Curt Beech. Cost: Marci Rodgers. M: Terence Blanchard. S: Phil Stockton – Dolby Atmos. ED: Barry Alexander Brown
    C: John David Washington (Ron Stallworth), Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman), Topher Grace (David Duke), Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), Ryan Eggold (Walter Breachway), Jasper Pääkkönen (Felix), Corey Hawkins (Kwame Ture), Paul Walter Hauser (Ivanhoe), Ashlie Atkinson (Connie), Alec Baldwin (Beauregard / Narrator), Harry Belafonte (Jerome Turner).
    134 min
    US premiere, Finnish premiere: 10 Aug 2018.
    DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Tennispalatsi 8, Helsinki, 19 Sep 2018.

Spike Lee is at his best in BlacKkKlansman.

I have loved Spike Lee's work since She's Gotta Have It and Do the Right Thing. Released by Universal, Do the Right Thing was his breakthrough film in Finland, and next year we screened the independent prodution She's Gotta Have It at Cinema Orion. Other special favourites of mine include Malcolm X and 4 Little Girls, a documentary about the Birmingham Baptist church massacre in 1963 by the Ku Klux Klan.

As a work of political cinema and engaged cinema BlacKkKlansman is of the highest order. It is an account of the black civil rights movement and the transformation of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s.

The speech sequence of the civil rights leader Kwame Ture (ex-Stokely Carmichael) is engrossing and compelling. It is one of the best sequences I have seen about radical political movements in the 1970s. An anthology piece of positive energy.

The Ku Klux Klan story feels convincing, too, based on the true story of an undercover detective. Psychologically I can believe in these characters. I knew neo-Nazis in my country at the time. They were complex figures, with a kind of a joking approach, yet fundamentally taking it seriously.

The undercover story of a black Klansman would seem impossible if it were not true. This is not a story like the one in Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor where a black inmate of a lunatic asylum starts race riots in the white hood of a Klansman. Affinities are closer to stories of Jews infiltrating Nazi organizations, even including To Be Or Not To Be.

That association is relevant. Both Ernst Lubitsch and Spike Lee manage something almost impossible: discussing a brutal aspect of history with a profound sense of irony, satire and humour. This is Spike Lee's greatest achievement and I think here he takes a big step forward. Without watering down his case. Instead making it stronger.

"If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you". (This saying has been attributed to G. B. Shaw, but the same idea appears also in the classics of antiquity).

BlacKkKlansman is a meta-cinematic film, challenging the great tradition of The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. There is also an extended discussion between Ron and Patrice about blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Spike Lee's is the most serious attack ever against The Birth of a Nation, a film which incited the re-birth of the Klan and an outburst of brutal racial violence.

Towards the end we hear in graphic detail the first-hand account of Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) of the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 – a horrible crime directly provoked by a screening of The Birth of a Nation.

I believe that The Birth of a Nation can provoke such a reaction. I had found the film offensive but harmless until 23 years ago I saw a Centenary of the Cinema screening of a restored version with the engrossing original music played live. The film was better than ever, but also for the first time I was shocked at the horrible implications. I think Spike Lee makes a mistake in sampling inferior material of the film with underwhelming music, although this may be authentic to the way the film was seen in the early 1970s.

As a cop film and an undercover thriller BlacKkKlansman is different and original. In many levels it is about strangers trying to pass in foreign territories: the first black cop in the Colorado Springs force, a cop trying to infiltrate a radical student meeting, a black man trying to join the Ku Klux Klan, his white substitute attempting a double impersonation (both as a cop at the KKK and a Jew standing for a black guy)... this is also a profound and revelatory account about true identities and playing roles. Also the presumed difference between a white and a black person's voices is discussed.

The romantic story reflects this. Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) suspects Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) from the start, but their reactions are complex. Ron approaches Patrice as an undercover cop, but also as a man genuinely attracted to her, and the feeling is mutual.

BlacKkKlansman is a political film but not un film à these. The main characters are rounded and three-dimensional. Also the account of the police department is complex. Ron meets deeply ingrained racism but also the unconditional support of the force in his outlandish plan to infiltrate the KKK. The account of the esprit de corps if impressive.

The cast is terrific: John David Washington, Adam Driver and Topher Grace are memorable as the male leads. A Finnish talent, Jasper Pääkkönen, gets to play the lunatic Felix, the most fanatic and dangerous KKK member.

My favourite is Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas, playing her with an Angela Davis approach. There is nothing more beautiful than a fighting woman. Angela Davis was world-famous at the time. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono were inspired and even dedicated songs to her. Even in Finland there was a "Free Angela Davis" petition campaign. I signed it as a schoolboy.

Visually, BlacKkKlansman is engaging. The DP Chayse Irvin has shot the film on 35 mm and 16 mm, and in the 4K intermediate the rich photochemical quality has been successfully translated into digital.

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