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November 08, 2003

Film Review: Bamboozled

A friend saw Bamboozled on DVD recently. I bring forth a review from the archives: October 2000 (I voted it #5 of all films that year)

it's hard to see a spike lee movie without bias, they're almost not even movies so much as they are cultural events. therefore it's always hard to pass judgement on them or review them like regular movies. there's nothing regular about spike lee, and predictably there is nothing ordinary about 'bamboozled', or perhaps there is and there lies the rub...

i can imagine that this film is going to be hardest on the film industry people. because unlike 'the player', 'bowfinger' or 'get shorty' it doesn't allow them to laugh at themselves. they are enemy, straight up. david edelstein, over at slate, has been the first critic (i suspect among many) who are going to fall into the spike lee trap. he criticises spike for not drawing out his characters into objects we can feel for, and ultimately be entertained by. if you want to be entertained by 'bamboozled' you essentially have to understand black humor, for everybody else, you'll never really know when or how to laugh. because it *is* a serious flick with a serious subject and the humor is all in the interstices, but not in the subtext. there are only a few ways to laugh at 'bamboozled' and if you don't get it, then its rough sledding.

even for me, busting a gut during the first half of the flick, it got pretty dry and heavy handed. spike has generally had a touch for giving his more dramatic lines a bit of tongue in cheek. but there is no famous 'spike shot' with people moving without walking. there are short soliloquies delivered with a kind of 'don't you get it?' attitude. if spikes characters are a bit flat, it's because they don't get it, and that serves the plot. it's not that any actor is sleepwalking through this film. it's well acted. nor that it is likely that anyone in the entertainment biz as portrayed by the characters is sleepwalking through their jobs at all. but 'bamboozled' is all about showing self-conscious frogs being boiled by degrees. everybody knows that something is going to pop, but they hope against hope that they can finesse the situation. there are no heroes, just the same old unbelievable shit, and that's hella realistic.

when things finally do go pop, the film takes a tangent which seems contrived. and it is that contrivance, a life or death situation, which makes his tale all the more real. there *are* no life and death consequences for the mistrelsy that is american entertainment. hollywood, madison avenue, and where ever the captains of fashion and booze ply their trades are wading comfortably in their boiling cauldrons. they have all their excuses so well rehearsed that when spike brings out the damage control media hack scene into focus, we know what she's going to say before she even says it. any beef you have with hollywood, be it violence, sex, drugs or rock and roll, is all implied here. this is how the boat floats - the show must go on.

'bamboozled' is only controversial, in my opinion, because everything hurtful happens to blacks due to the actions of blacks. and if you are unable to universalize the lessons, it overloads the significance of blacks and all the stereotypical devices in the coon show, as grotesque as they are. so moviegoers may end up twisted in knots thinking about 'the black thing' and what they are supposed to think of spike lee now. yes 'babmoozled' exploits a very particular venality of television vis a vis blackfolks and the america vis a vis the coon show. but there is something very deep and headbangingly harsh here in lee's critique of the business. and as didactic as many critics have called 'bamboozled' you would think more people will get it, but i think many will be stewing in their own juices.


Posted by mbowen at November 8, 2003 04:22 PM

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i have a paul mooney for president t-shirt that he signed. he knows my cousin pier (hell, she seems to know every black actor in new york) and so i caught his show at carolines. i suspect that you'll hear it straight from mooney about what's up with jews and blacks in the entertainment industry. he's hella funny, but couldn't play any college in america.
there doesn't seem to be much more adult comedy around any longer. i'm showing my age of course, but i think the failure of anti-racism (my new theme) has left most americans sprawling, clueless and over sensitive, except of course for the victims of the harshest forms.

since only spike lee and john sayles make movies that deal with race head on they are overburdened to produce explainations for people who are too lazy to do it themselves (according to my new theory). i say this also because i've got tarantino in mind re: violence. tarantino flips the script on violence just as sayles does it with race. spike takes the rap for his racial verisimilitude, which is exactly reflective of the pop consciousness. it's because spike doesn't flip the script in a kind of multicultural provocation that he catches hell. but aren't his stories more truthful?

as bamboozled goes i think spike took a lot more heat for giving hiphop no props whatsoever. i don't think rap has been so directly or seriously skewered in any film as bamboozled.

i too recall that jewish woman character. i hated her guts exactly the way spike wanted me to. i believed he was saying something unspeakable about the reality of the entertainment biz, and that was the whole controversy about the film. she reminded me of nobody so much as the casting director in that scene from 'hollywood shuffle' who wouldn't talk directly to any of the actors during their audition.

Posted by: Cobb at November 11, 2003 09:38 AM