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Malcolm X

Spike Lee

Malcolm X
Just slightly more than a decade ago, Spike Lee was at the top of his game, and he harnessed all his skills, vision and influence into what may be his greatest filmic accomplishment (after Do the Right Thing). Malcolm X is the film of a lifetime, not just for the story it tells of the revolutionary black Muslim but for the filmmaker who probably still hopes it's not the last great film he'll ever make. And make no mistake, Malcolm X is a great film: "some David Lean shit," as Spike declares over the long opening tracking shot. Its ambitions won't be tamed — it follows young Malcolm "Red" Little from Harlem ne'er-do-well through career criminal to incarcerated black man to violent revolutionary to international man of diplomacy, all before his assassination at the age of 39. Lee pulls out all the stops in creating his tableaux, including following Malcolm to Egypt and filming at Mecca — he's the only Western filmmaker to ever receive such permission. But Malcolm X, for all Spike Lee's vision, is embodied heart and soul by Denzel Washington, who does remarkable, career-defining work in the title role. Malcolm X is a film that should never have been made by a Hollywood studio; in fact, it's only because it was initially developed by Norman Jewison that it even got off the ground. When Lee took over, the film was modestly budgeted, something that Lee knew was a mistake, so he took a calculated risk: he went ahead and started shooting the film he wanted to make, knowing that he would run out of money well before postproduction could be completed. But by that point the studio would be in too deep to back out and would have to allow him to finish. It almost worked, but Lee had a backup plan: when the studio balked at the costs, Spike picked up his rolodex and started calling some prominent — and rich! — black friends. Oprah and Cosby were on the list, but the funniest play is when Lee admits to leaving Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to last, so he could play off their competitive natures with each other and get bigger donations. But what shouldn't be lost in the behind-the-scenes foofaraw is the telling of this life, its challenges and its accomplishments. Included on this two-disc "special edition" is a feature-length documentary, Malcolm X, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1972. In it, one gets to know the real Malcolm — his political life was ridiculously well-documented by cameras — and discovers that it's very familiar, due to the eerily spot-on performance by Denzel Washington. In terms of delving deeper, Malcolm is a subject that could sustain explorations for years; this film could be just the tip of the iceberg for a curious history buff. But for film fans, Spike Lee fans, Denzel Washington fans and history buffs, Malcolm X is a rare and treasured accomplishment. Plus: 1992 commentary by Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, editor and costume designer, deleted scenes. (Warner)
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