Monday, October 02, 2006

WFAT- Bamboozled

Continuing my deconstruction of some of the worst films of all time.

Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” begins with a title screen featuring the definition of the term “satire”. Lee then spends the next 135 minutes misappropriating the genre.

“Bamboozled” is, indeed, a satire. It is a satire that is so contemptuous of its audience that it feels as though it must beat us over the head with the fact that it is a satire. Of course, the film is so contemptuous of its America, that it envisions a scenario in which the masses embrace a minstrel show during primetime (not to mention a snuff films). By comparison, we get off easy.

Damon Wayans plays Pierre Delacroix with a (perplexing and career-ending) white accent. He also has a white sounding name. He also works to impress white people. See what I mean? Oh, and he collects racially exploitive figurines.

Pierre’s works in the television industry. His boss (Michael Rappaport) thinks the shows Pierre produces are too white (even though they feature black actors). He wants something more black.

So Mr. Delacroix decides to give his boss what he wants. He hires two street performers (played by Tommy Davidson and Savion Glover) to perform a minstrel show. In black face. The show hits the air, and generates no end of controversy. It also turns about to be a giant hit.

And this is where the film errs. I’m not sure any film about black face could really be funny, or make a point with any degree of subtlety. The execution of the show is awful, playing upon the old minstrel gags verbatim without adding any nuance or depth that might explain why audiences would find it funny.

The film devolves further into an absurd terrorist subplot, in which a militant black power group determines to kill Savion Glover’s character on live television. This is, I think an act of desperation, an attempt to bring the movie to a contrived climax. Meanwhile, Pierre faces some tough decisions about how he has represented his race that are resolved unconvincingly.

Lee is making a commentary about society’s refusal to take black people seriously. And that’s just what it is, a commentary. He is saying it, rather than showing it. The best satire is within a hair’s breath of reality. It is subtle. Nothing about blackface is subtle.

As a drama (and the film seems to give up on its comedic elements about half way through) the film inherently fails. Nobody would embrace blackface in any context, so any sense of real dramatic tension is rendered void by this sledgehammer. To compare any modern black comedy to minstrel shows is a satirical equivalent of argumentum ad Hitlerum.

I watched this film at my college, and recall discussing it with my friends. They excoriated me for disliking it, not because they could point to any concrete reason why it was a good movie, but for the “ideas” it brought up. They insinuated that, with my conservative ideals, I probably couldn’t understand the film, as though the film were rife with difficult nuances.

But films cannot be judged on the quality of their ideas. Anyone can make a film with good ideas. If Spike Lee wanted to take aim at Gangsta Rap and In Living Color, he should have done just that. But he didn’t. Instead, he made this piece of crap.

Spike Lee is a bold, angry director. He has made some truly excellent films. “Do The Right Thing” is a masterpiece. But rage makes for lousy satire. And this is some pretty damn lousy satire.


Anonymous Thom said...

I think people in general do not give the audience much credit. The people making the movies, the people protesting the movies. But anyways, I have been leery of seeing this film...and it sounds like it falls into the genre of Spike Lee movies I can't stand. He Got Game fits on this list to...when Lee lets the anger get ahead of the story, he makes crap.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

I thought He Got Game was pretty good, but if you thought that one was overwrought, you're in for a doozy with Bamboozled.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Thom said...

With a bit of editing, and some reshoots to make characters more consistent, Game would be a strong flick.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous BillyJoe Dobson said...

I enjoyed Bamboozled.

To each his or her own, I suppose.

11:41 AM  

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