Aesthetically Speaking

Spike Lee presents documentary on Jim Brown

If you take your sweet time buying tickets for the appearance by film director Spike Lee and living legend Jim Brown at the Walker Art Center screening of Jim Brown: All-American, you may as well not bother. If you take your sweet time buying tickets for the appearance by film director Spike Lee and living legend Jim Brown at the Walker Art Center screening of Jim Brown: All-American, you may as well not bother. Tickets are at such a premium even the press has to pay to get in.

Small wonder.

Spike Lee, uneven artistic output notwithstanding, has staked an inarguable claim to historic prominence. His independently produced Joe’s Barber Shop: We Cut Heads and She’s Gotta Have It, winner of the Prix de Jeunesse Award at the Cannes Film Festival, launched a career that lists such triumphs as the enduring contemporary classic Malcolm X and the riveting drama Clockers. Lee interrupted Hollywood’s unconscionable practice of “blaxploitation” super-coon cinema. He bridged the era of predecessor Oscar Micheaux to that of such peer successors as Bill Duke and John Singleton, depicting African Americans in authentic dimension. His documentary 4 Little Girls received Emmy and Oscar nominations, and his HBO/Real Sports piece on Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson garnered an Emmy Award.

Importantly, Lee remains instrumental in affording Black actors well deserved exposure: marquee names Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne and Wesley Snipes vaulted to bankable status after appearing in Jungle Fever; Theresa Randle, Bill Nunn and Roger Guenveur Smith are readily recognizable performers due to having worked with Lee; and superb talent Lonette McKee thereby dodged the obscurity to which she’d yet be relegated if mainstream powers that be had their way.

Jim Brown. The name says it all. To have watched him take off down a football field as a running back was to watch a world of power unleashed with pure grace. The NFL’s Hall of Fame, leading rusher in eight of nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns routinely made the most feared tacklers look like they waded hip-deep in molasses. An enormously talented man of unimpeachable dignity, Brown never let his athletic success or acting profile (The Dirty Dozen, Mars Attacks) prevent him from keeping it real — to which his commitment to the Black community, as founder of the Amer-I-Can program, encouraging youngsters to embark on productive lives profoundly attests. Quiet as it’s kept, Brown was vital in the recovery of his chemically dependent cut-buddy Richard Pryor. When Pryor, enmeshed in the madness of cocaine addiction, wouldn’t heed anyone else’s efforts to put him back on the good foot, he stopped and listened to Jim Brown. Patiently abiding a litany of rationalizations from Pryor about the pressures of success and how “I can do what I wanna do”, Each time Pryor paused to catch a breath, Brown simply interjected, “What y’ gon’ do?” At last, Brown finally asked whether his main man was going to quit trashing himself or “Do we have to end our friendship?” That’s when Pryor came to grips with the fact that his hard head was making his own sore behind. Brown thus intervened, motivating one of America’s greatest social commentators to rescue himself from absolute and complete self-destruction.

The preview of Lee’s documentary on the life and career of Brown takes place at 1 and 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 1 with a question and answer session moderated by Robin Hickman. Lee is on-hand for both. Brown will be at the second program. Tickets for each event, on sale now, are $25 ($15 Walker members, seniors, students with ID) and available at the Walker box office (612.375.7622) or on-line at The address is Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place. Mpls. Jim Brown: All-American (color, 35mm, 130 minutes), which will have its broadcast premiere on HBO on Dec. 11, is screened in partnership with the Hennepin County African American Men Project.

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November 11, 2002
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