Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Passing Strange," the Movie

TB and I watched this Spike Lee film at the IFC last night. He spliced together his filming of the last three performances of the similarly-titled Broadway show, created by rock musicians Stew and his partner Heidi Rodewald.

The story, loosely based on Stew's life, is simple but well-told: young African American man leaves his middle-class South Central Los Angeles Baptist home for Europe in search of art and "the real." Amsterdam gives him "the keys" to a druggy, sexy paradise, but when love calls, he escapes to Berlin where he encounters nihilism, and, in order to belong, passes for "ghetto black."

The story ends with him returning to LA for his mother's funeral, where he realizes the value of real love. The message is finally conservative, though the resolution, with its rousing music, still packs an emotional punch. We seek the real in art, because we miss the real in life. For an artist, passing as an existential condition, perhaps. Behind "I am a rock musician," we hear the protesting, the regretful, the puzzled "I am not a _______."

Stew explained . . . "Somehow, we wound up on Broadway, which I'm still trying to figure out. It was funny, because it was the stoner rockers and the drama kids from high school, together. It was like a reality show."

"We had to keep reminding ourselves we were a band," Rodewald added, "because when you get surrounded by all these theater people, you could just feel the inclination to write a bunch of showtunes."

Stew nodded. "I tried writing a more theater-esque version," he explained, "but the theater people told us, 'This isn't you.' I realized they were right. The theater people reminded us we were rock people." (
Full article on Tribeca Film Fest blog).


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