Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Huey P. Newton Story

Spike Lee, much like Woody Allen last week, is wildly inconsistent. Yet, somehow, I think this might be his best quality, since he's inconsistent mostly because he'll try anything that might be interesting. Yes, he's got common themes, mostly involving racial identity, but he's willing to express these themes in a variety of different ways. So, here's Lee filming a one man show for television (MaR, not just theatrical releases here!), A Huey P. Newton Story.

The story, of a story, is this story. Huey P. Newton (Roger Guenveur Smith) is a co-founder and leader of the Black Panthers. Here, he sits in a chair, smokes, and tells stories about his life, his beliefs, and what it means to be a black man in the world, and the problems that black people face in the current world and in the past, and why change needs to happen. He sometimes rambles off topic, sometimes seems to stutter, but is often engaging, funny, and the message has a real point to it.

I've undersold it, and I admit that. A summary can't sell a one man show, it's all about the actor doing it. Roger Guenveur Smith is a good actor. He's constantly engaging, bringing a neurotic chemistry to the role, stringing together serious points along with jokes, poetry, and an appreciation for history and literature. He's just fascinating to watch all around, something that he has to be in order to carry a show which is basically him talking for an hour and a half. He sells it, and makes it worthwhile.

So, what does Spike Lee do here? He doesn't have to do anything, he can have a static camera and it'd still be worth watching, Smith is that engaging. Lee, however, brings archive film into the background, constantly plays around with the camera and keeps looking for alternate ways of capturing Smith's performance. It doesn't detract in any way, and some of the archival footage provides context. It's not strictly necessary, but it doesn't hurt, and I imagine for some who might get impatient with a man talking for an hour and a half they provide some interest.

I didn't need that though, Smith sells it well enough that he's all I needed to get the film. Yes, I'm a pudgy white guy from an area where the only black people are doctors and football players. I'm about as far from the target audience as you can get. Yet, I was engaged, and I understood more about Huey P. Newton than I had before, and I was more interested in the Civil Rights movement than I had been before. If that was the goal, then consider A Huey P Newton a success.

No comments:

Post a Comment