Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Brief Note on Passing Strange

I've been out on the street lately, going door to door in my campaign for Mayor of Cooperstown. It's fun and informative, and has cut into my posting (which is fine).

A couple of nights ago I watched Spike Lee's latest, a filmed version of the musical Passing Strange. I know nothing about current shows, so had no idea what to expect, but I do make a point of seeing every Spike film. They're usually very good, sometimes failing at the end. He often seems to be lost when it comes to nailing down that final scene. Even Malcolm X, a towering achievement, has a lousy ending with various celebrities chanting "Malcolm," followed by an explanation of his importance. Come on Spike! The story has its own ending - he gets shot!

Passing Strange is the story of Stew, a black rock and roller, who had a band called The Negro Problem. Young Stew leaves a comfortable LA youth for the adventure of Amsterdam and Berlin, deserting his mom. The songs are stirring, the call and response tunes uplifting. It's very funny and the staging is bare. The band and actors constantly interact, adding a surreal and warm feeling to the show.

What I particularly loved is the construct of Stew, on stage the whole time, watching his life laid bare on stage night after night. And believe me, he's not always complimentary of his choices and actions. When actor Stew and real Stew stand face to face at the end, both wearing a red shirt and black jacket, it's striking.

As much as he can, Spike shoots the musical as a movie. I was struck by how fine the acting was. Many scenes are more movie-like than play-like, the leads making those small gestures that translate well on film and get lost on stage. It made for an emotional 2+ hours. By the end, I was a bit weepy, not because I saw myself in Stew, but because we all have our own family issues that make us miserable, in all sorts of ways.

See Passing Strange. It's not on anyone's radar, especially in these Avatar dominated times, but is as fine a film as I've seen recently.

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