Spike Lee: "You Couldn't Make A Movie Of Prince's Life"
Spike Lee presides over Purple People party in Brooklyn for Prince’s Born Day this past Saturday (photo courtesy of Metro)
The passing of Prince‘s on the morning of Thursday, April 21st 2016 inspired many to seek solace in the instantaneous sense of community created by sharing his music. But perhaps nobody has done more to keep the purple spirit alive in these streets than director Spike Lee. That evening, Lee–our great cinematic interpreter of black music, and a Prince collaborator on at least two major projects–turned the streets in front of the Brooklyn offices of his 40 Acres & A Mule production company into an all-Prince block party that served as a cathartic release for New York–and planet earth. Broadcast live to the world via CNN, the tribute became a spontaneous, collective expression of joy and pain that has previously attended only the election of a Black president. That recognition of his transition was bookended by a raucous celebration of Prince’s birth that Spike organized in Bed-Stuy’s Restoration Plaza this past Saturday; the Purple People Party.
For giving a public focus and outlet to our emotion, New Yorkers and Prince fans worldwide owe Spike a great debt. Yet, his work in preserving and carrying on Prince’s legacy may be just beginning. During his preparations for a Red Bull Music Academy talk with Nelson George–which included a screening of his short film for Prince’s “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”–Spike gave generously of his time to speak with Okayplayer about his work with the Purple One and the highs and lows of that first weekend after his transition, when the NYPD stood back to watch people dance to the music of Prince in the middle of the street at Spike’s invitation, just up the block from the world’s most congested intersection at Flatbush and Atlantic. Maybe most compelling of all, Spike shares his vision of telling Prince’s story in a 10-part documentary series. Read on to get all that and more in the first of our #PrinceDay exclusives and tributes. Come share a song and a Prince story with us. We’re here all day.
Okayplayer: Prince has been such a key part in certain films of yours. In Girl 6, most obviously, Prince’s music is almost a character in the story. How exactly do you go about casting the music of Prince in your film?
Spike Lee: Well, music is very important in all my films whether as score, performance or a record. And I tried to have great music in all my films and you know, Stevie Wonder did all the music for Jungle Fever… He Got Game was all Aaron Copland and Public Enemy. And, with this script Girl 6 I just felt that Prince’s music was the perfect fit and he was gracious enough to contribute original music. You know he wrote the title song “Girl 6” and then he said: “Spike, anything in my catalogue, you can use,” so he was very, very, very, very, giving. You know, he would–I mean this has all been documented, you know–he gave away a lot of hits. A lot of artists, you recorded his songs; he had hits and he just gave them away for people to record them. He was very, very gracious and giving.
OKP: You also recently shared online the short film that you did for his song “Money Don’t Matter 2night” I wonder if you could tell us how that came together?
Spike: Well the Diamonds and Pearls album was coming out and he called me up and said “I want you to do this song, ‘Money Don’t Matter 2 Night’.” So it’s something where he said “I’ll send you the song.” Whatever the song he was gonna send– like that, I was going to do it! And I said, Okay, what’s next? And he said “Oh there’s one more thing…I’m not in it.” [laughs]. But later on, they cut a version where they put him in it. I didn’t even know that until I saw it on the internet after he made his transition…