Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sundance '09: Passing Strange

It takes a while to get used to the experience, but Spike Lee’s new “see it like your there” film is great fun. Lee, along with one hell of an impressive camera crew, taped the final Broadway performance of "Passing Strange", an all black musical about a confused young man and the years following his leaving home.

The film is shot in real time, so, for the most part, you feel like you’re just another audience member in New York. The fun of the film is that Lee privies us to dynamic close ups, swooping tracking shots and other great tricks. If you’re going to shoot a play, then you have to make the audience member feel like they aren’t missing out on anything, you have to give them more.

When I saw Scorsese’s Shine a Light, the concert documentary on the Rolling Stones, I was almost happier that I was seeing it on an IMAX screen rather than actually being at the concert. Yes, it would’ve been kick-ass to watch Jagger and crew rock out, but there is a certain intimacy to the camera that you can’t get from 40 rows back.

Likewise for Passing Strange. How else, for instance, would be able to see a tear strolling down a character’s face during a pivotal scene? No way you could catch that emotion from the second balcony.

The film itself (or should I say the play) takes a while to warm up. But once it gets going, you’ll be dancing in your seat. B

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