Friday, March 18, 2011

He Got Game

He Got Game
first seen in New York, NY


LAMBs in the Director's Chair is an ongoing event in which LAMB bloggers discuss the work and career of a given director. The current subject is Spike Lee. The complete list of posts for this event will go up March 25-27 at the LAMB site.

I used to follow basketball, and I liked it, although I never had quite the same kind of passion for it as I did baseball. My father was the big sports fan in the family, and through him I acquired a love of the game(s) too. (In a couple of weeks I'll do a post on baseball.) I've seen the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden a few times. The last time I went with this friend of a friend who I didn't even know, but our mutual friend couldn't make it to the game at the last minute and I volunteered to take his ticket. I even went to a game with Vija once, who is so not a sports fan at all, but I think she still had a decent time.

In high school I would make a half-hea
rted attempt at the game, but it never did much for me. There was this one skinny kid named Jeff who always kicked my butt at basketball and loved to rub my face in it. It was a friendly rivalry, though; he was never mean about it. Volleyball was more my thing back then. Now that was a game I took seriously!

In my neighborhood these days, I always see kids and adults on basketball courts, early in the morning and late at night, in the hot summer and even in the cold winter. There's a local basketball league for kids that plays during the summer, with uniforms and referees and everything.

As with movie stars, I try not to think about the amounts of money professional athletes in general get paid, and pro basketball players in particular. I know that there are some pros who came straight out of high school and didn't bother with college, which is mind-boggling. But even for the majority that do go to college, sometimes I wonder how much of an education they get while they play basketball - or football, for that matter; this can apply equally there. After all, even with championship teams, not everyone can make it to the pros, and once they leave the cocoon of college, life in the real world begins. And for these athletes who have been given privileged status because of their physical abilities, who have been specially catered to and fawned over and given carte blanche to do as they please as long as they win - that transition can be a bit of a shock, to say the least.

He Got Game sheds some light on what it's like for a young athlete facing the temptations that instant success can bring. For a non-actor, actual pro basketball player Ray Allen is... better than Shaquille O'Neal, I guess, though I realize that's not saying much. But then, Shaq never had a role as good as this. Denzel Washington could read the phone book and make it sound compelling, so it's no surprise that he's at his usual level of greatness here, but then, working with Spike Lee always brings out his A-game, so to speak.

For all the strides Spike has made
in advancing black cinema, he still seems very much an outsider, not unlike fellow New Yorker Woody Allen. They both peaked early, Allen with Annie Hall and Spike with Do the Right Thing, and have evolved their filmmaking styles since, doing the kinds of movies they want to do, both within the system and outside it. Spike, of course, has had the tougher road to go down, in large part because he unapologetically makes black movies, and while his greatest works may not have gotten Oscar recognition like Annie Hall and other Allen films, they have still stood the test of time, they are still discussed, and they still retain their power. In the end, a director can't ask for much more.

In addition to He Got Game, I've seen the following films by Spike: She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Crooklyn, Clockers, Get on the Bus, Summer of Sam, Bamboozled, Inside Man and Passing Strange. Do the Right Thing is still my favorite, though I also like Crooklyn a lot too.

Previously in LAMBs in the Director's Chair:
Francis Ford Coppola
Terry Gilliam

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