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Pass The Popcorn: 5 Things We Learned About Music + Movies From Spike Lee's RBMA Talk w/ Nelson George
Pass The Popcorn: 5 Things We Learned About Music + Movies From Spike Lee's RBMA Talk w/ Nelson George

Pass The Popcorn: 5 Things We Learned About Music + Movies From Spike Lee's RBMA Talk w/ Nelson George

Pass The Popcorn: 5 Things We Learned About Music + Movies From Spike Lee's RBMA Talk w/ Nelson George

Spike Lee In Conversation with Nelson George (left.) Photo by Drew Gurian for Red Bull Content Pool

Last night American auteur Spike Lee sat down with interviewer extraordinaire Nelson George to screen a series of shorts and clips from his feature films emphasizing his use of music, whether it was original songs, scores, choreography, source sound and various combinations of all of the above. "All of the above" may best characterize Lee's incredible ouevre, which has broken multiple artists (hell, genres), seen him collaborating with Prince and Michael Jackson AND Stevie Wonder and ceaselessly used his films to experiment at the extreme boundaries of musical numbers, cinematic choreography, jazz and orchestral scores, DJing, concert footage and plain old funk. The evening kicked off with back to back clips of his short film for Prince's "Money Don't Matter 2Nite" and the "Nappy & Straight" sequence from School Daze...and proceeded to lob grenade after grenade into the mindgardens of those assembled. Below are 5 key facts we learned about music and movies from Spike and Nelson's joint:

1. Spike Lee Invented "Da Butt."

This one you maybe just forgot you knew, but it's worth repeating: when making his sophomore film School Daze, Spike didn't pick a go-go track to highlight the all-out freaknik experience that attended black college parties in the 1980s. He invented a dance called "Da Butt" to entertain himself...and then recruited Experience Unlimited to make an original go-go track to bring it to life for the movie's iconic scene of  black frat bacchanalia.  "Da Butt" went on to hit #1 on the US r&b Billboard chart and largely helped to introduce go-go to mainstream consciousness.

2. "Fight The Power" Was Inspired By "Bye Bye Birdie."

Spike's vision for the even-more-iconic opening sequence of Do The Right Thing featured a then-unknown Rosie Perez going hard as a mug, flexing and doing the flavor-wop in a blue leotard (alternating with shots in a red mini-dress and boxing kit) to the dissonant sounds of Public Enemy's "Fight The Power," made even more dissonant by the sounds of roaring aircraft and Branford Marsalis' wailing saxophone. The entire scene--backed by Brooklyn brownstones illuminated by red hot lights--comprises such an assault of sound, color and ferocity on the movie-goers senses that it has been described as "the greatest opening credits in movie history." In his convo with Nelson, Spike revealed that the color, costume and framing of the sequence was directly inspired by the (much tamer) opening sequence of "Bye Bye Birdie," featuring Anne-Margaret in a tight gold dress against an intensely saturated field of sky blue (compare below). Bonus facts: Spike loves musicals in general and plans to do a full top-to-bottom musical some day. Spike also related that he discovered Perez at the L.A. club Funky Reggae where he celebrated his birthday--dancing so hard on top of a speaker box that he thought she would break her neck and he would get sued. She danced so fiercely and cursed him out so eloquently that he rewrote the part of Mookie's girlfriend in the film specifically for her.

3. Mo' Betta Blues Was Originally Titled A Love Supreme

The script for Spike's cinematic homage to his jazzman father Bill Lee (who's real life nickname was Bleek, just like the main character) was originally named after the John Coltrane classic "A Love Supreme." Alice Coltrane, John's widow and longtime collaborator, refused to let him use the title because there was too much profanity in the film. "She let me use the music, though..." explained Spike, of the composition's central role in the film. "That was the important thing."

4. Stevie Wonder Goes To The Movies.

That's all, really. Blind musical genius Stevie Wonder--who collaborated with Spike famously on the soundtrack to Jungle Fever--regularly goes to and appreciates the movies. Marinate on that.

5. Shooting Michael Jackson's Video In Brazil Lead Directly To The Creation Of City Of God

This one was a true "mind blown" moment. In 1995, Michael Jackson asked Lee to direct a short film for the song "They Don't Care About Us" off his HIStory LP. Inspired by the use of Afro-Brazilian drumming on Paul Simon's then-recent album Rhythm Of The Saints, Spike suggested they shoot in Brazil and recruited the Bahian samba-reggae drum troupe Olodum, who had been featured on Simon's song "The Obvious Child" to augment the track as recorded. In addition to the historic Pelourinho section of Olodum's homebase of Salvador, Bahia, Lee insisted on shooting in the most notorious favela of Rio ("We had to." Why? "Because that was the spot.")--a move the Brazilian government actively tried to block. A judge banned permission to film in the area, a legal hurdle which was ultimately overturned by an injunction, allowing the shoot to go forward in the infamous Dona Marta favela. The area was cordoned off by 1,500 police as well as 50 residents acting as "security guards." Ensuring Michael's safety meant negotiating directly with druglord Marcinho VP, who it turned out, was a MJ fan and vouched for the star's security, stating, according to Lee, that "even if you placed a million dollars in the square, no one would touch it, once I give the word." The relationship that developed between Spike's local production manager, American/Brazilian Kátia Lund, and Marcinho during these negotiations is what ultimately allowed the shooting of the sprawling epic City Of God, which was co-directed by Lund and Fernando Mereilles, adapting Paulo Lins' novel of the same name, inside Rio's most notorious favelas. As if to underscore the goose-bumpy spirit of art inspiring transgressive, transformative art in unexpected ways, the first audience member to step up to the mic with a question for Spike after the talk's conclusion was a young Brazilian woman who had traveled to NY to pursue film and grew emotional when she related how Lee's work had inspired her to broaden her horizons and find her own voice as an artist. Mission accomplished.