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Spike Lee

     Back in May, Spike Lee discussed his new movie, Summer of Sam,at France's Cannes Film Festival, where his volatile tale of the June-July-August serial assassin, "Son of Sam," had its world premiere.

     "Summer of Sam is not really about the Son of Sam, but about the summer of 1977," Lee said. "I remember it vividly. The Yankees had just signed Reggie Jackson. I'd just finished my sophomore year at college, couldn't find a job, and was just hanging around. I bought a super 8mm film camera and just shot everything about New York. I couldn't get into Studio 54, I didn't want to get into Plato's Retreat. That summer was insane, so the movie is not just about Sam Berkowitz, a killer. It's about his effect, plus the blistering heat, on eight million New Yorkers. I want you to feel that madness."

     Yes, he'd been asked to make some cuts in Summer of Sam's sex scenes, not the murder scenes. "The MPAA has two different standards, one for violence, one for sex," Lee explained, annoyed. "They were worried about the First Amendment and said, without being specific, 'Could you just tone it down?' We tried to pin them down, saying, 'What scene bothers you?' We took some frames out, here and there.

     "Now I like Saving Private Ryan very much, but that movie is graphic, people picking up their arms and things like that. That's not an 'R' but should be an 'X.' Spielberg can do anything he wants."

     Lee was asked about his film being picketed by the families of victims. "When I choose a story, I'm not thinking about will it be controversial. But I knew I'd hear from the parents of the victims, and I understand their objections. Their sons and daughters are off the earth.

     "The father of one of the women led a protest of about ten people when we were having a casting call in the Bronx. It was in the newspapers, but we never heard anything afterward. Also, I met with a potential victim, someone he tried to kill. She said that only in the last couple of years has she been able to sleep again. With a movie, the nightmares would come back. So please don't make the movie.

     "But we couldn't do that. The train had left the station. We were spending Disney's money. The boat had left the peer! I feel very deeply for the parents--but I am an artist.This film is not a glorification of Sam Berkowitz. This is a story I wanted to tell."

(June, 1999)


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