Afro American Film & Achieves Crooklyn “Crooklyn” is a black feature film made in 1994. It was written by Spike Lee, along with his brother Cinque Lee and sister Joie Lee. This is not your typical “Spike Lee Joint. ” It’s not, in your face, or edgy, and does not address any racial, controversial, or sexual issues. The film shows the lighter side of Spike Lee because it is actually a family film. Crooklyn is semi autobiographical because it is loosely based on the childhood of Spike and his brothers and sister.
The film shows them growing up in the lower middle class, racially mixed Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn during the 1970s, showing the good times and the bad times. It’s not the typical Brooklyn film with gangs, violence, and drugs backed by rap and hip-hop beats. The family is very believable. The father, Woody Carmichael, played by Delroy Lindo, is a struggling jazz musician who would rather stay true to his art form and produce pure jazz, even though he is not making any money, than play guitar for a few rock groups to bring in an income.
The mother, Carolyn Carmichael, played by Alfre Woodard, is a school teacher taking care of the house and the children, struggling to pay all the bills with her sole income. The children, four brothers: Clinton (Carlton Williams), Wendell (Sharif Rashed), Nate (Christopher Knowings), Joseph (Tse-Mach Washington), and one sister, Troy (Zelda Harris), are growing up and doing what kids normally do: learning, playing, and getting into trouble. Crooklyn” starts with recreated Brooklyn neighborhood, showing kids at play on the street, playing games reminiscent of a simpler time like hop scotch, double dutch, skully, stick ball, and steal the bacon. Then it moves onto the typical family scene, with the Carmichael family setting the table to eat dinner. Lee does a good job of showing them as a genuine family, complete with spats and squabbles between the siblings and parents. In the scene that follows, which was most likely one of Lee's family memories, Carolyn asks the children to clean the kitchen before she comes home from work.
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When she comes home and finds a dirty kitchen, she rouses all the children from their beds, marches them down to the kitchen, and makes them clean it up, showing her as a mother and disciplinarian. When Clifton says he'd rather have a father than a mother any day, Carolyn chases him around the table, making the scene even more hilarious. At first the film seems to be a recollection of old memories with no real plot as more neighborhood scenes are shown. We see the real “danger” in the neighborhood. Spike Lee makes a funny cameo as Snuffy, along with Right-Hand Man, as the neighborhood glue sniffers.
They “terrorize” the neighborhood, stealing money so they can get more glue. We also see some altercations between the Carmichael family and their neighbor Tony Eyes, played by David Patrick Kelly, who keeps a filthy house and throws trash on their steps. Carolyn also throws Woody out the house after an argument over him bouncing checks turns into a family fight, involving everyone, even the children. These scenes, as well as the others that follow seem like real memories, even though the Lees said the film should not be interpreted as an autobiography. As “Crooklyn” went on, I began to see Troy more and more.
Troy is seen with her friends, shoplifting from the stores, and spending a lot of time in front of the bathroom mirror, wishing she had breasts. Gradually I realized that the film was mainly about her, and that I was supposed to be seeing the film through her eyes. Troy goes to stay down south with her Aunt Song, played by Frances Foster, and cousin Viola, played by Patriece Nielson, for a few weeks over the summer. Troy hates the experience because Aunt Song, who is very religious, finds something wrong with everything she does, makes fun of her, and seems like she is trying to take Troy's black identity away.
Aunt Song also seems to love her dog more than her adopted daughter. When the film switched from the streets of Brooklyn to the South, I noticed something was wrong with the picture. At first I thought something was wrong with my laptop. Then I thought the video must have messed up. So I disregarded it and kept watching the movie. But when it showed a scene from Brooklyn, the picture was fine. Then when it went back to the south, the picture was distorted again. I later learned that this was done on purpose. Lee shot the scenes down south in wide screen without anamorphically adjusting the image.
This was supposed to show that the south was a weird, warped place where Troy felt lost and alienated. Now that I know why the picture was warped, I understand its significance, but I, like most people, was confused because idid not get it when I was watching the film. When Troy returns home, she learns a tragedy has struck her family. Her mother is sick in the hospital. Later the family finds out that Carolyn has cancer. All of Troy's brothers break down and cry, but Troy doesn't shed a tear. In the scene that follows, the family is preparing for their mother’s funeral.
Troy doesn't want to go, but after her father talks to her she agrees to go. After the funeral, everyone gathers in the house for a celebration of Carolyn's life. Troy is sitting on a couch, and Clifton goes over comforts his sister the best way he knows how. The takes her hand and intertwines their fingers. It’s the first time we see Clifton show any real compassion for his sister in the whole film. Its a real moment between a brother and sister, and shows they are on their way to reconciliation. In the next scene, Troy is having a nightmare.
When she wakes up, she hears her mother and father arguing, so she runs down the stairs to find them. But when she gets to the kitchen calling for her mother, she just sees her father yelling, trying to kill a rat. Her father tells her that her mother is gone. Troy runs to the bathroom and throws up, and it finally hits her that her mother is gone. She says to father, “Mommy was in a lot of pain, wasn't she? ”, to which he replies “Yes she was. ” Troy says, “Then it’s good she died, so she wouldn't have to suffer. ” I think Troy already knew it would happen, but she also knew that it was for the best.
In the next scene, we see Troy combing her little brother's hair, assuming the role of her mother. “Crooklyn” is a great movie, with a strong message of family. It’s not a cheap family movie with the generic happy ending. It was raw, showing real life, and real issues. The children still have much growing up to do, and life is out there waiting for them. Spike Lee did a great job with this movie. I give a lot of credit to Spike, Joie, and Cinque for writing a great film. But no matter how great a movie is, it still has some flaws. One thing I noticed was there was no real direction or plot line in this film.
It was mainly a lot of events going one after the other. Kind of like organized chaos. Another thing was that the film relied too much on the music. There was a song in almost every scene of “Crooklyn. ” It was like memories put to music. While they do help you connect with the movie, I think that you wouldn't get the same effect if you were to watch the film again with only half or none of the music in it. The cast of the “Crooklyn” was excellent. Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo did an outstanding job of portraying the parents. But the best acting would go to Zelda Harris.
Not once did I see her act in the whole film. She really made me believe that she was Troy. The children all acted like real siblings as well. The film also celebrates the black culture of the 1970's with everything from the afros, clothing, tv shows, the neighborhood, and music. The songs were personally chosen by Spike himself, and fit the movie perfectly. I also like the direction Lee chose for this movie. Most films about Brooklyn show the stereotypes: violence, drugs, gangs, and angry black people. Spike showed the real side of Brooklyn, with caring people and family.
I also like this movie because it showed me the way Brooklyn was before me. Spike's version of Brooklyn is very different from the Brooklyn I grew up in, but there are also some of the same characteristics in each. The worst thing in his neighborhood were glue sniffers and little kids causing trouble. My neighborhood is different from his, and we face more problems but its nice to relate. It good to know that even back then, people faced some of the same problems we do now, and do some of the things we still do now as well. I enjoyed “Crooklyn” and would recommend the movie to anyone.
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