Passing Strange (2009)

SPIKE LEE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBUSA, 2009Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Stew.  Film Editing by .

Spike Lee brings movie cameras to a performance of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show written by musician . The play’s narrative is that of a young man who leaves the protective comfort of his religious mother in search of what will eventually be a deeper and more attuned understanding of the world and himself, which will then contribute to his own growth as a songwriter. The experiences he undergoes take him first to Amsterdam and then to Berlin, encountering drug culture and unusual performance artists and breaking his sheltered views as he comes to develop a deep affection for the complex and challenging people he meets . The story is narrated by Stew on stage and is based on his own autobiography, put across with a sumptuous score that covers a diverse assortment of musical styles that the superb cast handles without a single flaw (and is the first among equals as Mother). The staging is minimal, contributing to the sense of transformation that the main character is perpetually experiencing, and Lee wisely chooses to present the play in its original form, placing a series of cameras around the stage rather than adapting it to narrative film. Any musical’s power and energy can only be experienced live to be fully appreciated, but Lee’s filming the beads of sweat on the performers and doing very little in the way of photographic flourish (except in a handful of instances), then having his frequent collaborator Barry Alexander Brown do some expert editing on the myriad of angles they capture, preserves this great piece beautifully and the experience of watching it is still quite exciting.

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