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Jan

15

2014

Classical Music and Cinema: Aaron Copland, Spike Lee and 'He Got Game'

The year is 1998. Filmmaker Spike Lee is ten movies into his career but things have hit a snag.  The writer/director’s last three movies have all been adapted from other people’s material and have done so-so with both audiences and critics. The harsher among them say that Lee–successful, admired, and a long way from earlier films (like Do The Right Thing) which have his stamp on every frame–is now phoning it in. For his next project, Lee thinks, he’s got to bring the “Spike Lee” back to “A Spike Lee Joint.” He’s got to write and direct. This story has to be both untold and recognizably his.

He calls the movie He Got Game. The premise: a father-and-son story about basketball. Untold? Not really. But then Lee jukes:  basketball is not just any sport, he’s argues, but more than football or baseball,  America’s Game.  To prove it, Lee opens with slow motion footage of hoops being shot in urban playgrounds and suburban driveways, by high school girls’ teams, across amber waves of grain. The music underneath, in case we didn’t get the message, is “John Henry” by Aaron Copland, a less-recognized piece by the most recognizably “American” composer of them all.  Copland, eight years dead at the time, even gets an onscreen credit.

Music by Aaron Copland

My newest piece for Salon97 on Movies and Classical Music