Crooklyn | Spike Lee | 1994
It’s upsetting for me to admit that I wasn’t alive in the ’70s. How I would have enjoyed so much to wear some bell-bottom trousers, boogie down to a disco club, dance to some Sly & the Family Stone and have sexual intercourse with a sassy African-American woman with a ‘fro. Crooklyn depicts a different side to the ’70s that I guess I’ve have chosen to overlook - the life lessons of a young girl from a struggling black family in a poor and overpopulated black neighbourhood - and almost makes me take back my wish.
In all legitimate honestly, my primary reason for being interested in watching the film was because of its soundtrack. I love funk music with all my heart its presence all over Crooklyn not only aids the emotional resonance of the story but helps to maintain a buoyant nature to the film despite the fairly grim and depressing story. This mirrors the personality of the family; always trying to stay upbeat and not become melodramatic or despondent. When we see them constantly arguing at the dinner table we don’t become infuriated at the chaos of it all, we embrace the warmth that Lee is evoking - the family bicker all the time but you never lose the sense of love between them all. It is such a heated and abrasive relationship but the source of that is never in doubt; you ironically can’t do anything but understand their subtextual endearment of one another.
My initial reaction at the climax of the film was “wow, well nothing much happened there!” Yet taking even 5 seconds to ponder on this, I was surprised to realise at how much really did occur in the plot; death, travel, fights, separation, poverty. However, after all this has happened you’re met with an overwhelming feeling of redundancy. Little has changed overall despite the destruction of the family. At the end of the film you could immediately start a new film and follow a similar story with a different family and this process could continue indefinitely. There is, suggestively, an infinite amount of despairing stories of this sort to be told. It’s a vicious cycle.
Crooklyn is probably most guilty of occasional OCD storytelling. There can be a truly lovely moment in a scene and then we’re immediately jumped to a juxtaposed activity, which leaves little times for anything to set in and damages the connectivity of both scenes for the viewer. This coupled with the distancing nature of how it depicts character that makes it so much harder than it needs to be to connect to them essentially leaves you with sense of indifference at everything going on. These characters are jammed with unique…uh, character, but I didn’t care about them nearly as much as I should have. It’s a pretty uneven film but does have great moments of intimacy and some nuanced performances.
In Crooklyn, Spike Lee has not only provided a film about a literal narrative; it’s practically a love story to the decade of 1970. It accurately captures the feel and mood of that time and lifestyle (I know it very well), which being a semi-autobiographical film for Lee I imagine was one of the utmost important aspects of the film for him to achieve. You can so easily observe his deep infatuation with the period of his upbringing and adolescence and it creates an interesting parallel with the disheartening story. It contrasts a little too much to really make either aspect of the film click emotionally with the viewer though.