What the hell happened to the African-American filmmaking renaissance? In the 1980s, there was Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, Wendell B. Harris Jr., Robert Townsend and Charles Lane. A few years later, Carl Franklin, The Hughes Brothers, Mario Van Peebles, John Singleton and Rusty Cundieff got into the mix. Then, late in the 1990s, there was Theodore Witcher, Kasi Lemmons, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Charles Stone III. They all looked like talented filmmakers equipped with a unique perspective on African-American life in (and, in a few instances, outside of) the urban milieu. I was convinced at least a few of them would go on to be important directors.
It’s now 2007, and only Spike Lee stands as a productive auteur of note; Charles Burnett is a critic’s darling (his excellent Killer of Sheep was re-released this year), but he generally works outside of the system. As for the others, Franklin is a steady B-movie hack, while Lemmons and The Hughes Brothers may yet develop into serious artists. The rest are either finished or so compromised by the system as to not matter (Singleton movies are still fun to watch if only because he’s still struggling with basics like camera placement and shot composition).
Their inability to breakthrough to the mainstream has left the door propped open for untalented opportunists like Sylvain White, Sanaa Hamri (a joke amongst her peers) and Damon Dash to pander their visually slipshod wares to an audience hungry for films that speak to their experience. Unfortunately, they’re getting fed dog food. Is that harsh? I don’t know. Have you seen Something New? I could hire a group of over-caffeinated A/V Club rejects to shoot that script and end up with something more aesthetically pleasing than Hamri’s discordantly awful film.
This is why the idea of a quality-averse company like Screen Gems greenlighting a remake of Lawrence Kasdan’s epochal The Big Chill sickens me. It’s not that the film is a masterpiece (actually, it’s a bit dated and kind of nauseating as a Boomer apologia); it’s just that Kasdan truthfully captured a time and place without bowing to convention. For some reason, I don’t trust Regina King and the Stomp the Yard team to deliver that kind of nuance.
Hilariously, the producers have not yet decided whether they will go heavy on 90s music (as that will be the decade in which the characters graduated from college), or stick with Motown standards. Since soundtrack sales will be as important as making a watchable movie, I’m sure the production will incorporate lots of new songs with Marvin Gaye/Smokey Robinson/Temptations samples from today’s most popular hip-hop artists. If they’re true to the era, they could make Zapp and Roger’s "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" an unofficial theme, since it was memorably featured on the first Friday CD. And there’s always the Method Man/Mary J. Blige "All I Need". Oh, but they’re probably already in negotiations for Rihanna to record an anachronistic single.
Let me be clear: the basic premise of this remake is a great idea; the people making it are all wrong.