The film Clockers, is based on a novel from 1992, with the same title, by Richard Price. Universal Studios paid a lot for the adaptation to be made into a film. The film was originally supposed to be directed by Martin Scorsese, director of many hit films. Scorsese eventually left the film and pursued another project. Spike Lee was handed the film's direction and project. "Lee shifted the balance of the story a slight amount, favoring one of the two dueling main characters over the other, but otherwise the finished work is remarkably faithful to the original book", says Dan Seeger on Spectrum Culture. Lee works diligently to convey his message through the film by providing fictional experiences and consequences of real actions and choices. The film debuts Mekhi Phifer as Ronald 'Strike' Dunham, Delroy Lindo as Rodney Little, Steve White as Darryl Adams, Isaiah Washington as Victor, Harvey Keitel as Rocco Klein, and John Turturro as Larry Mazilli.
The film and filming in this crime-movie very exquisite. Everything from the opening credits to the dramatic ending, the camera angles worked in favor of the director's and videographers dream. The opening scene pictures a series of brutal crime scene photos that were recreated from real autopsy incidents to show the viewer that they are about to watch some real and serious story. "In preparing the sequence, Lee spent two weeks at the New York crime scene unit headquarters, where the lieutenant in charge allowed him to inspect what the officers refer to, with typical gallows humor, as the "family album." The pictures he selected were later re-staged with actors and photographed by his brother, David Lee", says Stephen Pizzello, from ASC Mag. In the background is a resonating "soul song" about people in search of a life to foreshadow the upcoming themes for the viewer. Lee emphasizes how he wanted to instill a specific effect on the viewers.
We weren't going to treat life cheaply in Clockers, because when you take a life, it's forever. There are too many kids being killed on the streets of this country, and it's no joke to me." -Lee, on ASC Mag
The story follows the life of 'Strike', or Ronald Dunham, as he lives through the housing projects in Brooklyn. He is considered to be one of the "clockers", those individuals that partake in street-level drug dealing. He works for Rodney Little, the local drug lord, who sort of owns the streets, and has a lot of the young men fear him. Rodney wants Strike to commit his first homicide, the victim is Darryl Adams, another competitive drug dealer that Rodney claims has been stealing from him. Rodney has reasons behind why he chooses Strike to commit the murder, as he reveals in a flashback with him and Errol later on.
Strike meets with his older brother, Victor, and convinces him to take the murder off his hands. Adams is then found shot dead in front of a fast food joint where he worked as a manager. The film does not explicitly show this scenes, which lets the viewers wonder who actually murdered Adams. Strike is not the one that comes up to confess to the crime. His brother, Victor, confesses the crime at church and the detectives get a call from the church reporting the crime. This does not settle well with the Detectives as they have done research on Victors background and see that he has no criminal record and is a civilized contributing family man in society.
"Victor is a hard-working, upstanding family man with ambitions to get his brood out of the corrupting inner city, and soon his confession doesn’t sit right with Detective Rocco Klein" -Dan Seeger, Spectrum Culture
It takes not much time for the detectives to piece together that Victor is in fact actually just covering for his younger brother, Strike. Victor portrays a scenario in which he needed to act out of self-defense, and a clean record would essentially let him off with less, compared to his brother Strike.
Rodney, the drug lord, gets really angry and upset at Strike for making his older brother committing the murder. This Rodney to fill Strike in with a flashback story about when Errol and Rodney were younger. Errol makes Rodney commit his first murder.
Rocco starts pressuring the brothers, but Victor remains on his story and does not deviate in the details. Rocco then goes to Rodney and tells him that Strike has confessed and admitted to being a part of Rodney's drug dealing scheme. Rodney is arrested and Rocco brings Strike in front of his crew to confess. Strike does not admit to the allegations, he tries to play it off and deny that he had anything to do with Rodney's arrest. The crew does not believe him and labels him a snitch, and at the same time, Rodney calls Errol from jail to put Strike up for wanted. Strike gets together some money and tries to flee, but just then Errol is sitting in his car waiting to kill Strike. A young admirer of Strike, Tyrone, sees this and rides up to Errol and shoots him dead with Strike's gun. Errol dies and Tyrone is taken into custody. Tyrone tells his parents how he got the gun from Strike, and then his father goes out of the interrogation room and looks for Strike and beats him up in front of everyone.
Rocco gets an arrest warrant for Strike, and tries to pressure him into confessing the murder of Adams, but he keeps changing up his story. Strike's mother comes in with Mazilli and Victor's wife and tells Rocco that Victor confessed to the murder and is unable to leave his bed. She is very angry at Strike and throws the money he gave her for Victor's bail at his face. In the meanwhile, Rodney is trashing and urinating in Strike's car, leaving it to be useless. Rocco drives Strike to the station and threatens him saying that is he ever sees him again, he will have him arrested and let Andre beat him down, and arrest Rodney too and put the two of them in the same cell to share a bed in prison.
The film ends with a dramatic shot of Strike looking out of a moving train, implying that he is getting very far away from his previous life and home.
The actors were not the only newcomers in this film. Lee ventures out and gives a lifetime opportunity to one of his members of the electric crew, Malik Sayeed. Sayeed was 26 years old at the time in which he was assigned the director of photography for this film. Sayeed was a Howard University graduate in 1990, he earned his degree in film studies. Spike Lee gives Sayeed a chance as he thinks he may not earn another opportunity for a while since he was a struggle.
“I knew Malik might not get another chance for a long time, and I didn’t want him to be in video hell forever, so I rolled the dice and gave him a shot.” — Spike Lee, ASC Mag
Sayeed started to compile an impressive reel of his work. Lee had talked to a lot cinematographers before he decided to give Sayeed his break.
Malik knew his stuff, he was on top of technology, he was well versed in the use of new lights and latest equipments. Sayeed used a very unique filming style for the tones of the film, some technology that even Lee hadn't heard of too. The use of the Kodak's 5239 film resulted in very unique and pleasant lighting scenarios. It helped create a 'glowing aura around the characters'. The camera angles along with the lighting were used to make an amazing impact on the scenes and storyline. For example, the usage of mounts and sleds, the director and cinematographer were able to make a surreal and profound experience of a flashback in the film. The idea for filming the flashback this was was inspired by The Boston Strangler, shot by Richard H. Kline.
Film art allows for a story to resonate with the viewers with audio and visual sensory aid. It adds to an amazing effect with trying to convey the story, feelings, and emotions of each character. Soundtracks help to put the audience in a specific mood, and abrupt angles help to jolt the audience's attention. Film as a whole comprises of a lot elements put together to create a lifelike melodious experience. Clean and thought out shots can create an impactful impressure. Angles make or break a moment, making film art beautiful in nature.
In Price's novel, the attention is split more evenly between Detective Rocco and Strike. Lee, however, focuses more on Strike and his journey through the stressful incident. Lee wanted to move onto a different perspective for the film, one with less police perspective. The crime genre is filled with police centered films.
Lee’s other key addition was a shift was in focus. The book gave roughly equal time to Rocco and “Strike,” the “clocker” who might’ve committed a murder his brother has confessed to. Price’s adaptation focused more on Klein – understandable, as it was being written for De Niro – but Lee’s pass moved the lens to Strike, because the Klein-ccentric take “would have been just another cop story to me.” -According to Jason Baily on Flavorwire.
The films was a fairly faithful to Price's novel. However, in Price's novel, there are far more details regarding the drug trades and the society that is created as consequences from actions from individuals like this. Overall, the film portrays issues that are still prevalent today, even though the movie was made in 1995, the events and attitudes in this film still exist.
Chi-Raq is a 2015 musical-crime film based on a Greek Comedy called Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes. The film was directed and produced by Spike Lee, just like Clockers. It was written by Lee and Kevin Willmott. The film centers primarily around a group of women with a common goal: to stop the deadly gang wars in the infamous South Side of Chicago, or Chi-Raq, with the clever tactic of abstinence. The original play was written in 411 BC. To give some background, this was the time where there was a war between Sparta and Athens. Lysistrata comes up with a master plan to try and end the war and violence by abstaining from offering her body to her husband. Lee released the film in 2015, and the film takes place in multiple neighborhoods of Chicago, the film is like Lee's style of touching onto urban violence. This film, like Lee's film Clockers, deals with gun violence and urban areas bordering impoverished states. The main focus was the protest of the women and the gang violence. The film stars Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Samuel Jackson, and John Cusack.
The cinematography, or art of making motion film, is especially exemplified in Chi-Raq. The opening scene is welcomed by a song playing in the background about crime. The lyrics read "Police sirens, everyday, people dying, everyday, mamas crying, everyday, fathers trying, everyday". The song was performed by Nick Cannon. The song is instills emotion in the view, with lyrics being projected against a black contrasting background for dramatic effect. In the opening scene, there are also statics regarding American deaths in war lands, showing how in just Chicago there were more than the countries with war. This cinemagraphic input really puts into perspective the crime rates and allows the viewer to get comfortable in their seat because the movie is about to show that side of violence.
"Together, the song and the sermon, heard when no image is seen, are a gauntlet that Lee throws down to himself: What can popular art be in a time of crisis? How can a work of mass entertainment live up to the moral challenge that the priest poses? How can art depict and respond to the crisis, reflect the monstrous societal forces that render many black lives unlivable or simply unlived, and yet be—as art—free, personal, intimate, and beautiful?" - Richard Brody, on The New Yorker
The filming style of this film was very unique. It was filmed in a "presentational style, like a stage play". Lee is considered to be one of cinema's most theatrical directors. The characters often spoke directly to the audience and into the camera. Characters' dialogues often consist of couplets.
Lee uses rap and music as complimentary audiovisual cues to engage the audience with the filming. Color schemes area also observable in the film, the rival gangs seem to have distinct colors, purple for the Spartans, and orange for the Trojans. What is very interesting is that, as the movie progresses, the distinction in color-coded outfits eventually wears off and the women are wearing clothing of the same color, sort of like a uniform, signifying the united power they started.
Chi-Raq revolves around the women of the Chicago South Side, who essentially go on a sex strike until their men stop impulsively and recklessly kill each other. Teyonah Parris plays the modern day Lysistrata. The events are narrated by Dolemedes. A war ensues between two rival gangs: The Spartans, led by Demetrius Dupree, or "Chi-Raq" and The Trojans, led by gang lord Cyclops. Demetrius' girlfriend, Lysistrata, starts to see the reality of the crimes around her, especially a shoot-out at one of Demetrius' concerts. A young girl named Patti is killed by an unidentified man, Patti is the daughter of Irene. Lysistrata moves in after a fire with Miss Helen, a non-violence advocate. She inspired Lysistrata to start the sex-strike. Lysistrata then organizes a meeting between herself, and the girlfriends of the members in both gangs. The agree to withhold sex from their men until the men agree to put their guns down. Their motto line is now "No Peace, No Pussy". The strike seems to be inspirational and spreads around the city pretty quickly. But even with the large efforts, the Spartans and Trojans still refuse to stop their war and violence. All the women who come together to enforce the protest have the same pain and are able to motivate each other and come together. This movement grows larger and eventually spreads nationwide. The men eventually end up accepting the women's strike and form a peace treaty of a sort.
Lee keeps a lot of the details the same as the Greek play, all of the main components of the film are the same. The war between the two groups, the essence of the protest, the women empowerment move, and the undying love for their men. Spike Lee adds a huge sense of feminism in this film. The main character, Lysistrata is very bold and confident once she decides she can no longer hold her silence.
Another striking similarity between the film and Greek comedic plays was the feature where Samuel Jackson's character pauses the scene and proceeds to talk directly to the audience, sometimes in olden English. The play, however, is more lighter in tone and more comedic, the film tackles a very serious and sensitive issue: high crime rates in black dominant neighborhoods, and female empowerment.
Lee was asked during an interview about the adaptation source and if the film is a musical that is based on the Greek play Lysistrata. He responds with the quote below.
"Well, this play was written by the Greek playwright Aristophanes, 411 B.C. The lead character was tired of the war between the Trojans [actually, the Athenians] and the Spartans. So she came up with this amazing idea: We could make our men put down their spears, their knives, whatever, if we get all the women together and withhold sex, have a sex strike". -Lee says according to Bryan Smith, Chicago Mag.
He says in an another video that is was indeed adopted from the play, but they took only the premise of the play and "moved it to the South Side of Chicago", he also calls Chicago the "murder capital" of America.
The film was an amazing portrayal of how film adaptations can make or break a story. The film did do great justice to the story by adding the original satire and themes of Greek comedy. Overall, the film and cinematography of both films by Lee were amazing examples of film art.