Rant of the Week

Bamboozled by Spike Lee

This is not a popular film.  Of the mainstream reviewers I checked, only the New York Times gave it what could be called a "favorable" review.  Roger Ebert, who thought the incredibly pedestrian and schmaltzy "The Notebook" deserved 3 1/2 out of 4 stars, pans it, as does Slate.  Village Voice liked it, while acknowledging it's flaws.

Bamboozled is deeply flawed, but to rate it below "The Notebook" is like rating Picasso below Warhol because people actually enjoy the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's Soup cans more than the distorted Les Demoiselles of D'Avignon.  Ebert buys James Garner breaking into a nursing home to try to clamber back into bed with his improbably well-coiffed demented wife because his love is so enduring and overpowering, but he thinks Spike Lee's point is "obscured" by the actual use of "blackface" in the Millennium Minstrel Show.   But there is not a single moment in any of a dozen films Ebert admires that rises to the level of sheer creative audacity as the audition scenes in "Bamboozled" and I can't believe he doesn't know that.  It's not hard to believe that "Bamboozled" would frustrate any serious critic: Lee is a brilliant film-maker.  You want to "get" his films.  You want more than anything else to be on the correct side of the racism equation-- rooting for the good guys.  But there are no good guys in "Bamboozled".  Not even the victims of racism.

Maybe that's because Spike Lee himself has done a few Nike ads.

It is a difficult, challenging movie, but as the Village Voice and New York Times noted, it's an important film.  Name another film in recent history that deals even remotely honestly with race in America.  No, I'm not talking about those ridiculously quaint melodramas that require an idealized black hero like Denzel Washington or Sidney Poitier or Will Smith to live up to our preconceptions about racial injustice.  The blacks in "Bamboozled" are real, multi-dimensional, and complex, and so are the whites, for that matter.  The blacks in "Bamboozled" are allowed to be equal to whites, even if it means they can be equally grasping, callow, and under self-delusions. 

Given this context, I don't understand why some critics didn't like the ending, a long sequence of racist movie and television clips--including Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland putting on black-face--set against a dirge.  I found the breadth and brutishness of the images somewhat shocking, even if you know they're out there. 


All contents © 2006 Bill Van Dyk