Spike Lee’s totally self financed independent film Red Hook Summer made its debut back in January at Sundance. The controversial film which just released this summer depicts faith and religion in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn (New York City). Check out the review below from fellow blogger Michell Clark of Artistic Manifesto.
Spike Lee’s film “Red Hook Summer” builds expectations for a happy resolution between a young child, Flik (Jules Brown), and his overprotective grandfather, Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters), but the ending is filled with a series of sharp, poignant twists and turns that leave the audience gasping in contemplative shock. This independent film boldly deviates from the typical plot structure dictated by mainstream cinema, but has redeeming qualities that make it more than worth seeing. The early stages of the movie include many scenes that seem unnecessary, and could potentially bore viewers. This is not to say that these scenes aren’t awesome within themselves, to some. Those who grew up in black churches will find the scenes of services in Bishop Enoch’s church to be particularly endearing and reminiscent. I couldn’t help but laugh at stereotypes such as the flamboyant, overzealous organ player and the old lady who always sings hymns as if she’s a professional opera singer. I find them hilarious because I’ve seen them enacted in real life, but I can’t say for sure if those who didn’t grow up in this environment would find these scenes as funny or memorable. They lend themselves towards creating an environment more akin to a Broadway play than the traditional cinematographic experience. Good or bad? You decide for yourself.
Spike Lee has consistently brought forth scathing, thought-provoking social commentary in his films, and we’d be shocked if he didn’t do so in his latest chronicle of Brooklyn. Typically, he attacks the issue of race. Films such as “Do the Right Thing” and “Crooklyn” are renowned classics due in no small part to their examination of the issue of racial conflict in Brooklyn, serving as an isolated reflection of American racial issues as a whole. “Red Hook Summer” takes a different route, offering an unorthodox view of one of the most central institutions of the African-American community, the church. I won’t sugarcoat; some might be turned off by Spike Lee’s unceremonious depiction of the issues faced in the modern Christian community. Religion is one of the most important things to many Americans, Without spoiling the movie, I will say that these issues are in fact real and important to the religious community as a whole. The controversy that embroils the second half of this movie leaves a bit of a bitter taste in the audience’s palate, and forces reexamination of one’s own religious practices and assumptions. Spike Lee has said numerous times that he does not attend church, and that is quite evident in this film. Thankfully, the movie is not condemning or condescending against the church. Instead, it offers a more neutral viewpoint that many devout Christians would struggle to craft due to their own biases.
As the movie begins, all eyes and minds are focused on the affairs of young Flick Royale, the cheeky youngster from Atlanta living with his grandfather. As the film begins, we can’t help but laugh at the generational gap between the technologically proficient Flik and his bible-thumping grandfather, Bishop Enoch. We but empathize with Flik, who is kept on tight leash, working in the church for most of the summer. He finally meets someone his age in Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith), a young girl his age whom he eventually develops a friendship with. I really want to commend Spike and his crew for selecting Toni for this role, because she defies the typical Hollywood expectations for “beauty.” Toni is beautiful, but she is a different type of beautiful that goes against what a typical stereotype-obsessive director would likely overlook. I feel that this movie definitely makes a statement with her inclusion. We watch Flik and Chazz go through the typical phases of a young boy and girl, and predictably they begin to have feelings for each other. Then the hook comes. What we don’t see coming at all is Bishop Enoch’s increasing transparency and vulnerability. Bishop Enoch seems so appreciative of life, and secure in himself towards the beginning of the film. As the plot moves along, we are reminded that everyone has their own struggles and weaknesses in life.
If you’re looking for a traditional, super-polished, high-budget, star-studded drama that fits expectations of mainstream moviegoers, then you shouldn’t go see “Red Hook Summer.” The movie has gained notoriety amongst critics for its low budget, and rightfully so in certain instances. There aren’t any major stars in this movie that will draw in the casual moviegoer. That being said, “Red Hook Summer” is still definitely worth your two hours in my eyes, first and foremost for its thought provoking examination of the black church. The negativity that this movie associates with religion is not without purpose. Upon the conclusion of the film, viewers will leave feeling disjointed, unsure of the final destination of key characters, and with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouths from the drama of the last moments of the plot. They will also leave with a call to action for their own personal lives in dealing with their families. Spike Lee’s latest drama takes place in the Brooklyn projects once more, but does not condemn or animalize the slums and their inhabitants. Instead, it thoughtfully and bluntly presents the inhabitants of Red Hook as imperfect human beings seeking better for themselves, just like the rest of us. And that’s quite all right with me.