We were inundated with your questions for acclaimed 25th Hour director Spike Lee. Thanks for all your efforts. Now read on for Spike's thoughts on 9/11, the curse of MTV, and Harvey Weinstein.
Looking back over your career, which of your films do you consider best reflects what you were attempting to say, and why? Marcus Taylor
Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X and 4 Little Girls are the films where I felt like what was in my head got onto the screen.
The opening credit sequence for Clockers (featuring photographs of gunshot victims) must be one of the most disturbing opening sequences on film. Aside from the obvious shock value, what was the intention behind it? James Arliss
The intent was to deglamourise this whole infatuation with rap and guns and this idea that it's cool to have a gun and shoot people. I really wanted to set the tone for the film, right from the beginning; to say that if you use a gun, or get shot, there's a good chance you won't get up again. It's not like do-over. Bullets do damage. To do that sequence we recreated real homicide photographs.
25th Hour is marked by quiet moments (eg Monty walking his dog) that have a certain European sensibility to them and then explosive moments like the F*** monologue, which feels more MTV. How big is the range of influences upon your work? Kay Arnold
There's a big range, but MTV is not an influence at all. I'm not against music videos but I think the biggest detriment to cinema that MTV has brought about is this rapid-fire editing. I saw Moulin Rouge and almost had an epileptic fit watching that film. I have a great editor, Barry Brown, who's been with me from the beginning, and we do not impose a general technique. I let the subject matter determine the editing style, or how the film is shot. I let the story guide us in how it should be told.
The writer of 25th Hour, David Benioff, has said that you encouraged him to be more faithful to his book, asking him to include the F*** monologue (an extended rant against New York city and its people) and to extend the original ending of the screenplay. These are two sequences, which are almost surreal in an otherwise straightforwardly told story. Why did you pick upon these scenes? Kevin Elmo
I didn't know of David's novel until I read the script and once I'd read the script, I was eager to get back to the source material. And there was this stuff in the novel that I thought was wonderful but wasn't in the script and so, yes, I said to him, "You gotta put it all back." When I read the F**k monologue in the novel, it seemed very cinematic to me. I knew I could shoot that scene. I knew exactly how I would shoot it.
In 25th Hour, how does the aftermath of 9/11 inform the journey undertaken by Monty Brogan? Daniel Jones
I'll leave it up to the audience members to decide that because it was not the intention, for one to parallel the other. I just wanted the film to take place in a post 9/11 New York City. It was just about being honest in reflecting the status quo.
I look forward to seeing 25th Hour, but I notice that the main characters are white and that race is not a central theme. Why did you decide to veer from your usual territory? Catherine Moreau
I don't think I have a usual territory. I've done 17 films and I think the subject matters have been wide ranging. In this case, I liked the story and it wasn't a big consideration that the characters are white. I did not set a precedent with 25th Hour. I dealt with white characters in Summer Of Sam, and in most of my other films the cast of people has been diverse, so I don't really think 25th Hour is as big a departure as people make it out to be.
How have native New Yorkers reacted to 25th Hour, since 9/11 is something that's still fresh in their minds? Ngwa Paul Mbanga
People have been touched very deeply by it. They're very moved by it. People come up to me in the street all the time to tell me how they feel about my films.
I have observed that you are guilty of discrimination in your films, especially toward the Asian community. For example the newspaper stand guy in Girl 6 and the Chinese shop owner in Do The Right Thing. These characters are made to look silly because of their race and the way they speak. How is this different from the way white directors have portrayed black people on film over the years? Jaz Singh
I totally disagree with that statement. These characters are not made to look silly at all. And as for the way they speak; that's just the way those people speak. I didn't direct them to speak like that.
How do you feel about black street culture being appropriated in film by white filmmakers for comic effect, as in Malibu's Most Wanted? Brett Donald
The appropriation of black culture started 400 years ago, so it's not new. I mean, what was Al Jolson doing? What was Elvis Presley doing? I feel, in a lot of cases, we're just being laughed at. The thing that some people still don't understand is that there is difference in comedy between laughing at someone and laughing with someone and with a lot of these things, I think they're laughing at black people. There are some things about us, that I don't think are funny. Forget about Malibu's Most Wanted, there's another film out called Bringing Down The House with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. Just from seeing the TV commercials for it, I know what it's about and I don't want to see it.
You were critical of the decision to let a white director (Michael Mann) helm
Ali. How would you have done things differently? Thomas Lyons
First of all I didn't say anything about Michael Mann being a white director. I just wanted to direct the film and I didn't get the chance to do it. Simple as that. It doesn't matter what I would've done differently. And you know, the film speaks for itself.
Do you feel that Hollywood is still unwilling to push the boundaries when it comes to dealing
with controversial issues? If so, why do you think this is? Evangelia Palios
Yes. Hollywood is about making money so if they feel that a film is going to be a turn off, it's going to be very hard to get that film made within the studio system. The studio system still exists and it's all about who you know.
You ran out of money on Malcolm X and apparently still have trouble getting financial backing for your films. Have you ever thought about directing more
commercial movies if only to bankroll more personal projects? Lesley Ward
No. It just doesn't work like that. And we didn't run out of money on Malcolm X. That's not true. We were going over budget but we were under-financed from the very beginning and everyone knew about it. Warner Bros made a power play to take control of the film by letting the bond company take the movie over once we went over budget. We were in post-production when the bond company took the movie over and they fired all the editors and everybody who was still working on it in post-production. So I went to prominent African-Americans, in entertainment and sports, and asked them to make a donation so that we could continue to work until this thing was resolved with Warner Bros, and that's how we got it made.
Are you, or have you ever been upset, angry, or surprised by the reactions to your films, but in particular Do The Right Thing? Sarah Tennant
I was very upset about the reaction to Do the Right Thing and when critics wrote that I was playing upon white fear and this film could start a riot. I mean, they were telling readers to pray to God that this film wouldn't open in a movie theatre near your home. That really hurt us at the box office because it scared a lot of white people out of seeing the film.
Do you ever feel that your films are unfairly ignored by the critics, and that old
chestnut, the Oscars? Sarah
What I do as a filmmaker is not affected by any type of award, and that's not why I make films, so it doesn't bother me. I read some of what the critics have to say, but none of it really affects my choices as a filmmaker.
The last time you were in Europe, you spoke out against President Bush and the
Iraqi war. Since the US is meant to be the biggest proponent of free speech,
what do you think it says about your country that many have been called
un-American for daring to dissent? Darren Hall
I think it shows how hypocritical some of these leaders can be when they say they're going into Iraq to liberate people from the tyranny of Hussein and bring democracy and freedom and yet, in America, artists have been criticised for exercising their freedom to speak out against the war.
How do you reconcile your stance on human rights with having directed TV
commercials for Nike, who are known to have exploited children in the third
world? Gavin Mayhew
Basically, all the stuff I did for Nike was done before I was even aware of their practices. Also, Philip Knight (CEO for Nike) is a responsible and decent human being and he has worked hard to rectify the working conditions around the world where those sneakers are made. And the situation has been rectified.
What's the most frustrating experience you've endured as a film director? Veronica Lane
Just trying to get projects made, getting the financing. But another thing that frustrates me is just dealing with ignorant people who have these high-ranking jobs. And you would think they know something, or how did they get in such a high position? But you try to have a discussion and you'll come away thinking; man, these people are stupid. And these are the same people who believe that the American cinema-going audience are a bunch of idiots.
Why did you stop giving yourself prominent roles in your own movies? And have you
received many offers to act in other movies? J. Willis
The reason I'm not in my films anymore is because I never liked acting to begin with. In my first film She's Gotta Have It, I couldn't afford to pay anybody else. There's no need for me to do that anymore. I've had one or two offers to act in other people's films, but I turned them down.
If the American Film Institute decided to preserve one film from every director,
which of your movies would you want to make the cut as the best representation
of your work? Melissa Jenkins
One?! I guess, either Malcolm X or Do The Right Thing. But so far, they haven't chosen any of my films. They had this list of the 100 best films and none of mine made the cut.
What's your involvement with the film version of Rent? Ellen Jennings
None whatsoever. Not anymore. Two words: Harvey Weinstein. I got snookered.
What will be your next project? Dennis Carver
I'm doing a two-hour TV pilot called Sucker Free City, Sucker Free City being a nickname for San Francisco. It gets into the dealings of black and Chinese gangs in San Francisco.