July 99 Review
Summer of Sam

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Written by Spike Lee
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Spike Lee and Jon Kilik
Cast: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito

Summer of Sam Review
by Shelby Jones

When Steven Spielberg directed "The Color Purple" and jonathan Demme directed Oprah Winfrey in "Beloved", many in the African-American community blasted Hollywood for allowing white directors to continually direct such dynamic stories about black people. Most importantly, African-American directors were dismayed by the lack of opportunity they have been offered to direct films concerning white issues or dominant white characters. Of course, black directors have directed films with white actors and varied themes but rarely are they given the reins on a full-scale production, from start to finish.

This month Spike Lee crashed the wall and upset the status quo. Undoubtedly, the quintessential African-American film director of the decade, Spike Lee delivers "Summer of Sam". Known for his critically acclaimed feature films and popular culture appeal, Hollywood obviously feels Lee can deliver. This is Lee's first feature film with an all-white cast and an opportunity many African-American directors feel should be commonplace.

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You can view the digital interview to hear Spike Lee's thoughts on "Summer of Sam" and his relationships with Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino. You will need a Real Player to view digital interview. Real Player can be downloaded free at real.com



Spike Lee discusses Summer of Sam, and his body of work honored in BAM's "Summer of Spike" film retrospective.

Spike Lee discusses guerilla filmmaking versus traditional film school, Matty Rich and the Black Film Renaissance of the early '90s.


Synopsis: During the summer of 1977, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz terrorized the streets of New York City. By murdering lovers parked on New York streets, he was coined the 44-caliber killer. Berkowitz held New York in constant fear. Lee takes us to the summer of '77 looking through the eyes of Italian kids in a New York neighborhood. The neighborhood kids become so paranoid and blood thirsty that they quickly focus their suspicions on a local teen that has recently returned from Europe.

Lee allows the suspicions and accusations to build to a fine crescendo while continually focusing on the wild, weird and dangerous summer of '77.

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Thespians: Character development, which is the first course taught in most screenwriting seminars and college courses, is still the most important aspect of quality filmmaking. And Spike Lee is still the master of character development. One cannot escape the aura of Lee's characters. Our main character Vinny, portrayed brilliantly and meticulously by John Leguizamo carried fear, anger, suspicion, denial and hurt so well that it is easy to feel like you are really living in the summer of '77.

When Vinny stumbles upon "Son of Sam" victims moments after the murder, Lee utilized this character to carry various emotions to the audience. It blends perfectly to create many tense moments of uncertainty and rage. In addition to Leguizamo's stunning performance, Mira Sorvino, who is continually growing as an actress, is also unafraid of portraying different and wild characters. These two make "Summer of Sam" a fine feature film that delivers more than just excitement.

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Critique: Lee films the entire movie with a sense that we (the audience) are holding a hand-held camera to spy on New York during the "Summer of Sam". We became privy to David Berkowitz in his lonely, desperate apartment and we watch families and the local mob decide what is best for them to survive. The brilliance of Lee is that he continues to deliver great films with the feel that you are welcomed into this world.

Overall, "Summer of Sam" will probably be considered one of Lee's finest creations. It will perform well at the box office. We also expect it to thrive in the home-video market. Hollywood should take notice that Lee utilizes the cast very well and spurs them to deliver fantastic performances. This is a film that truly takes you to the "Summer of Sam".


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