View Full Version : Bamboozled (2000) - Spike Lee

06-11-2005, 04:22 PM
Some director’s reach so high to fall so far. With enough persistence though, eventually you’re bound to hit that ultimate high note that only the truly profound films can reach. Spike Lee has consistently reached for that high concept. Scattered throughout his filmography are simpler films, like Get on the Bus or The Original Kings of Comedy, films that have a direct message and a simple structure. Ironically both films weren’t written by Lee. The two previous features from Lee were both over ambitious in many ways. He Got Game and Summer of Sam focused on simple human interaction, but on a large scale. Summer of Sam was the more ambitious of the two, and flawed as it may be, it was an operatic cinematic achievement.
Bamboozled is that over zealous prodigious folly of a film that only seldom works. Lee was finding ways to indirectly comment on issues, primarily race throughout his filmography. Bamboozled was the result of pent up rage and anger. The film is Lee at his angriest, a final loud and proud “fuck you” to the world that he had only really hinted at until now. Lee’s rage is everywhere, the liberal white folks who think they’re tolerant, the black people who don’t care, and even against the misguided rage of black power leaders.
Bamboozled is a film of no heroes, all villains. Even Slone (Jada Pinkett Smith) the conscience of the film is a party to the original idea for the New Minstrel Show, and as guilty as anyone. These characters change and adapt, but no one cares. There is no redemptive nature to the progression. When people learn their lessons, it’s too late. Mantan (Savion Glover) learns his lesson, and walks away, but he too can’t prevent his impending doom.
No character is proud either, they can’t be. They all recognize, at one time or another the price of their success, and can’t stand up and applaud their actions. Delacroix (Damon Wayans) sums this up great at the end of the film, but they all pay for their actions. His character has the most internal guilt, which doesn’t always come through. There is a tendency when using a narrator to vocalize all internal emotions, but Spike keeps the characters reflections slight. We see his feelings by what other people feel towards him. His family life is tough, his father is a standup comedian who also happens to be an alcoholic (played well by Paul Mooney), and his mother’s few phone calls remain a source of internal strife. Delacroix doesn’t have the support of any loved ones, and perhaps it’s his own selfishness that destroys him.
This was Lee’s first film shot in digital video, and this new technology is it’s own source of controversy. I believe it allows him to be much more direct, and when making a film of a somewhat ambitious nature, digital film brings it down to Earth. I loved the touch, and it does help to lend to the documentary nature of the story. Acting wise though, this film isn’t the best it could be. Savion Glover does well for a non-actor, but I did think Damon Wayans was a bit much, and at times irritating. Whatever faults may arise though, they are overlooked.
Most of the supporting cast remains good though. Being a big fan of Mos Def the rapper, I naturally took a liking to his character, and he represents the most extreme form of black consciousness. Fellow rap artists the Roots also make an appearance as the house band for the show. Michael Rapaport can hit or miss, but this time I believe he hits. He is the other extreme, the soulless TV producer who welcomes the controversy, and believes that his own black wife gives him the right to say nigger as much as he wants. Truth be told, he does seem “blacker” than Wayans character, but that is indeed the point.
Lee uses this vast canvas to parody and satire any and everything he wants. The TV commercials are brutal, but not surprising from Lee. The ultimate question however is, who’s black? Knowing a little of the history of Minstrel Shows, this was the debate there, and it was basically the talent of the blacks that dug their own graves. Perhaps it is Lee’s talent as a filmmaker that continuously earns such contempt. He’s almost too good a storyteller.
It may be an appropriate time to point out that I’m an enormous fan of Spike Lee’s. There isn’t a film of his I didn’t like, but still with that in mind, Bamboozled is a true achievement for Lee. It certainly ranks among his best, but I believe that presently the film is still too much in debate. Just as the show was criticized in the film, so is the film criticized. For as many fans of it, there are detractors. Reviews ranged from enthusiastic praise to condemnation, so like most Lee films, you just have to see it.

Chris Knipp
06-11-2005, 05:15 PM
Interesting review but I wish you'd outlined the plot a bit more, because I've forgotten it. I saw the movie but five years later retain only a vague memory of it. Its being a rack on which to hang Lee's objections to just about everything means the plot isn't important and hence its fading from my mind this way.

06-12-2005, 12:02 AM
Plot synopsis

TV producer is gonna lose his job, needs to come up with an idea. Sees a couple of street performers and gets the idea to bring a Minstrel show into the 21st Century. Somehow the idea sounds like a good idea and a variety show of blacks in blackface takes off and becomes brilliant and controversial. Along the way everyone sells out and questions their motivations, and like Network, things turn tragic. That's the very bare bones description of the story, but I just don't like elaborating much on plot, I always consider it secondary.

Chris Knipp
06-12-2005, 12:29 AM
That's all I needed; thanks, it's all coming back now.