Let me say this right up front: I am a fan of Spike Lee’s films. I sometimes wonder where he’s been all these years, as nothing monumental has come out of Forty Acres & a Mule Filmworks for some time. When a friend asked me to watch Crooklyn, a film from 1994, I eagerly said I would. After all, it’s Spike Lee, and is semi-autobiographical. Crooklyn is rated PG-13 for drug content.
The first thing I noticed is the soundtrack. The first song is pleasant enough, serving as background to the camera that’s showing us the streets of Brooklyn, the children playing on the sidewalks and on the steps of their apartment buildings. It sets the scene well.
But the music never stops. One after another song is inserted into the action and the dialogue. It’s distracting, annoying, and I hated it. This film is supposed to be about a family and their colorful neighbors, not about ‘70’s music. Music is supposed to be used in a film to enhance the story, not drown it out.
The film’s main characters are the Carmichael family: Mom Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), Dad Woody (Delroy Lindo) and their five children growing up in 1973 in difficult financial times. The four brothers have only the one sister, Troy (Zelda Harris). Carolyn is a hard working schoolteacher, mostly carrying the weight of bringing in the money, and in caring for her rambunctious children. Woody is a musician, a composer who prefers jazz, something that is not bringing in any money these days.
One aspect of the film I noticed was the cinematography. It seemed to me that certain scenes between Carolyn and Troy were super clear, very distinct and visual. When Troy went south to stay with relatives for the summer, the visual effects were quite different, distorted almost. I’m sure these choices were intentional. It did make parts of the story stand out more, so that when the reveal happens, you think back to what those periods in Troy’s life meant to her.
Interestingly, New Yorkers selected Crooklyn for the One Film, One New York screening this year, which is a contest where the whole city is encouraged to watch one film on the same night (September 13, 2017). The other nominees for this contest were Desperately Seeking Susan, On the Town, New York, New York, and The Wedding Banquet. For Crooklyn to win over these other films is a tribute and a nod to the filmography of Spike Lee. I don’t live in New York, and I have never even visited the city, something I will correct in the next few years, so I don’t fully understand their choice. Perhaps it is nostalgia for the 1970’s, the music of our youth, or for Mr. Lee.
I’d recommend watching some of Spike Lee’s other films instead of this one. Jungle Fever, She’s Gotta Have It, Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, He Got Game, even Summer of Sam are preferable to this loud, messy tale.