film reel image

film reel image

Friday, September 27, 2013

Crooklyn 1994 * * 1/2 Stars

The picture above is the movie poster for Crooklyn Director: Spike Lee
Year: 1994
Rating: PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Alfre Woodard, Zelda Harris

The closing credits of Spike Lee's 1994 film Crooklyn state that what we saw as an audience was a work of fiction. They also state that Crooklyn had more than one writer and those writers (Lee and his real life brother and sister) drew some of their inspiration from their own lives growing up in a low rent Brooklyn neighborhood. If this is the case and the film is not exactly a true story, then after a recent viewing, I started to wonder why and for what reason, it was made. Now granted, Spike Lee always has good intentions. And most of the time he gets energetic performances from his cast. However, in Crooklyn's case, the material he is saddled with (the story and the monotonous, yet accurate script) is entirely lightweight, and it doesn't have the strength to fill a 2 hour-plus exercise. Whatever conflicts that occur between the characters (characters that fade in and out of the proceedings) are never fully realized and resolved, the one event or tragedy that occurs toward the film's conclusion does not fully beef up any dramatic momentum, and most of the scenes involving the main family depicted (the Carmichael family) feel tedious and in serious need of editing. In essence, Crooklyn would have more effective as a side plot of Lee's family childhood included in a T.V. special/documentary about his life as a director. What came out in 1994 though, is an authentic, yet unnecessary portrayal of a family of 5 kids (four boys, 1 girl) living in Brooklyn, NY in the summer of 1973.

Using many unknown child actors and casting himself as a neighborhood glue sniffing junkie, Lee shoots a film that follows the lives of the fictional family, the Carmichaels. They consists of a hard working school teacher (always tough as nails Alfre Woodard), her calming, hard-up musician husband (with this film and Lee's Clockers, Delroy Lindo is now one of my true acting heroes), and their five children (the film slowly begins to put its main focus on the only daughter in group being Troy, played with confidence by Zelda Harris). Although they are the main tenants of the building they are living in, they are struggling to make ends meet (they fail to pay the electric bill for everybody else and the building loses power) and Carolyn Carmichael (Woodard) being the sole provider, puts a strain on the family dynamic. She and Woody Carmichael (Lindo) fight and argue because he is not able to make any money playing his music (he's a piano player and composer). Crooklyn also in the smallest detail takes a look at some of the other people that live on the same block as the Carmichaels. They are side characters that don't get a lot of screen time to establish themselves, let alone add to the workings of the plot (a plot with a very thin skin). As I stated a couple sentences ago, watching this exercise, you begin to realize that the young Troy becomes the focal point of the movie in general. It's not entirely known upfront. But by the last twenty minutes or so, you understand why. By then it's too late because too much running time is passed and not enough has happened. If the whole entire film focused on this little girl, I think it might've worked. I stress the word might've.

When it's all said and done, this is a harmless motion picture that seemed close to Lee's heart. I don't think it's a bad film by any means. I just feel that the subject matter wasn't deep enough or potent enough to engage an audience seeking entertainment value or for lack of a better word, excitement. Yes, the period detail is pretty solid with the soundtrack being composed of some 70's classics and a few rap tunes. The opening credit sequence is excellent, depicting a normal routine of childhood antics (double dutch jump rope, tag, street races, etc.) on a hot summer day in NYC. And the closing credits are a delight leading with an intro by Soul Train creator Don Cornelius followed by a dance sequence on said T.V. show. But, in between, the movie glides by without really saying anything or provoking any deep meaning. So my high end analysis is this: instead of watching people's lives on screen, the only way to really embrace this film, is by being in that place and time, and actually inhabiting some form of their existence. If you lived in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood back in 1973, this flick might be your cup of tea. If you didn't, decide to take in a viewing, and wanted to immerse yourself in the world of Crooklyn, (you know its characters and its story) by hook or "crook", you'll ultimately feel cheated at what you just saw.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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