Clockers is the story of a young man named Strike, living in Brooklyn New York. Strike is a small time drug dealer working for a small time drug lord named Rodney. Working up the ranks of Rodney’s drug ring, Strike is coerced into killing a man for Rodney, but before he is able to go through with it he talks to his brother Darryl. Darryl is drinking at a bar. We clearly see his wedding ring and we hear about his kids as well. Without telling him about the plot to murder, Strike tells Darryl many things about the mark that we presume to be false. Darryl, a seemingly straight-laced guy, says that he’ll get him a man to take care of it. Strike’s target is then murdered, and two detectives are left to figure out who did it after Darryl confesses. The detectives don’t believe it, and they continue to pressure Strike to find the true identity of the murderer. With Rodney scared that Strike is snitching, Strike is pressured on all sides to make a decision to either get out of town or confess to a murder. A young boy named Tyrone gets involved and winds up shooting a would-be assassin hired by Rodney, saving Strike’s life. With the pressure at its peak, Strike talks to the detectives, truly confessing that he does not know who killed the mark. We learn from Strike’s mom that it was indeed Darryl who killed him, that he wasn’t in a right state of mind and that he ought to claim self-defense. The movie ends with Darryl posting bail and Strike leaving town.
Spike Lee chooses to highlight inner city life, artistically drawing out the struggles of black folk in certain times and places, most often in the inner city. Initially under the direction of Martin Scorcese, this film was later given to Spike Lee. “Under Scorsese’s auspices as executive producer, the studio offered the film to Lee, who felt the project was a perfect fit with his own sensibilities, concerns and aesthetics. “I read the novel and looked at the various scripts that Marty and Richard Price had worked on,” says Lee. “But as I did, I started getting ideas about how to add my own vision while still being true to the book” (https://ascmag.com/articles/clockers-lee-sayeed). These problems are highlighted in a dramatic fashion, mainly to try and characterize the struggles on many into one or two characters. Spike is Lee’s muse in this case, demonstrating the pressures of a man who seemed to have no roads in life. Spike Lee’s hand in the film is evident as we see the themes of black struggle and cop abuse in the life of inner city life abundant throughout the film.
Focusing in on the seemingly “one road” problem, Strike appears to have run out of options. If he decides to snitch, Rodney will go after him. If he doesn’t, the detectives pressure him and influence his drug ring so deeply that they believe he was a snitch anyway. Low on resources and opportunities, there are no truly good options for Strike apart from starting an entirely new life elsewhere. The other very clearly evident problem displayed in the movie is the problem of the abuse of power by police. What I find most interesting about Spike Lee’s depiction of the abuse by police is the fact that it is bi-racial. Where I think most people would be tempted to make a more obvious, racially charged statement about white folks in power and the oppression of black folks, the point was more about the abuse of power as a problem of the human condition rather than a simple black or white problem.
Spike Lee utilizes some very interesting filming methods to highlight important points in his film. Spike Lee utilizes the double dolly shot for important ethereal moments. This film style breaks away from the rest of the film, telling us that this is a moment that we need to pay attention. One of the times we see this clearly is toward the end of the movie when Strike sees Tyrone biking up the Errol, who proceeds to shoot him. This tells us that Strike has reached his mental and emotional capacity, and he needs to talk to the police. Another time this technique is used is when one detective is doctoring up Tyrone’s backstory in order to help him avoid serious charges. The detective is inserted into the memory, but he is telling the story with some of the details intentionally wrong. The film style gives us a feeling of being off-kilter, so we don’t really know what to believe. Presumably the fuzzy details are what will help Tyrone.
Chi-Raq is the retelling of the classic Greek comedy, Lysistrata. In the film we open up with a small rap show, the performer being Chi-Raq himself, an aspiring artist and leader of the Spartan gang. A man in an orange shirt attempts to assassinate him. This man is sent by the rival Chicago gang, the Trojans. After the incredibly intense intro, we hear a monologue from Dolemedes again, who will continue to narrate throughout the film. Later that night at Chi-Raq’s house, there is another attempt made on his life in a moment that his is trying to be intimate with his girlfriend, Lysistrata. The next morning Lysistrata is out walking, presumably to work, and she sees a young girl who has been killed, caught in the crossfire of the gangs. This is enough for Lys, and she recruits the women of Chicago to withhold sex from the men until the violence stops. After a series of both serious and silly events, the women achieve their goal as the gangs reconcile, both internally and externally, and the violence is no more.
Remembering Clockers, Spike Lee continues his heavy influence as a writer and director, directing the flow and artistic expression to show the things that he is passionate about, namely pointing out the struggles of inner city folk, particularly in Chicago. “Amazingly, Lee creates such a work of art, not by tamping down his style, suppressing his personal impulses, or subordinating his intuitions to principles, but by heightening and extending his style. He renders it inseparable from the ideas that he offers and the ideals he exalts—and fuses those analyses with a fierce, tender, overwhelming emotional power. With the burden of incommensurable pain that suffuses the movie from start to finish—a burden that the movie helps to bear with its own flamboyant fury—Lee has created a raucously joyful yet howlingly haunted jazz requiem for a ravaged city and a ravaged generation” (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/spike-lees-necessary-overwhelming-chi-raq).
Chi-Raq focuses almost exclusively on the violence that plagues the city of Chicago. Some of the words that are consistently brought up are things like “we are killing each other.” What appears to be the plight in Lee’s mind is not just the fact that there is violence, but the fact that black folks are killing black folks. The violence is needless and has consequences beyond a war of the gangs. Kids are caught in the crossfire and innocent blood is shed. We can tell how important this is to Lee by how much time is spent on the artistic shots dealing with this dark material compared to the expositional scenes explaining the plot of the movie. One example of this is the scene when Jennifer Hudson’s character is cleaning up the blood of her daughter that was spilled on the streets. No citizen would need to clean up the scene of a murder, but the long scene of cleaning with no dialogue and intense color emphasizes several philosophical and moral points for Lee.
Chi-Raq has come a long way from Clockers. He has demonstrated his skills as an auteur, growing in his ability to demonstrate his beliefs and artistic views as a director and a writer. His shots are cleaner, the dialogue is simpler, and yet the point comes across just as clear, if not more so.