From 21:08-21:44, Spike Lee places us in Bleek’s gravitational pull. Lee strategically uses the circular motion in Bleek’s trumpet practice and places him in the center to signify his internal psychology. Through the movement of this sequence, Bleek confronts his audience with his intimate relationship with his instrument, breaks the fourth wall, and acknowledges the audience with intention and directness that translates to a power dynamic that disintegrates as the movie continues.
With his visual acknowledgment, we rotate with Bleek. He is the only object in the shot that remains focused, and in turn, he becomes the anchor that we orient ourselves around through this rotation and disorientation. The only connection that we have to ground ourselves is the Bleek’s pull and by acquiescing to his gaze.
In this particular clip at 0:12 seconds, we see that Bleek closes his eyes. Although our connection is seemingly lost with Bleek, it is only strengthened by the lighting and color composition. We lose the intensity of the eye contact, but the audience remains entranced in his world that few have access to. His sounds become less audible, and the background lighting begins to dim, which creates a larger emphasis on what Bleek is doing as he retreats into the complexity of his own mind. The audience never loses sight of being in his living room, but we are conscious that the lighting and color composition physically represent Bleek’s psyche by converging into one color pallette. The room that carries his sound becomes a meditative holding space for his art until his concentration is broken at 0:30. It is only then that the foreground and background are equally lit, and we can re-enter the world that we momentarily escaped.
Through the camerawork in this particular scene, we understand his relationship to his identity and his work, but more importantly his relationship to power and freedom. He exhibits control over others through his position in his gravitational field. We as the audience are objects unwillingly orbiting around his existence just as he treats his other relationships. When the object that he is manipulating is not his trumpet, the trumpet becomes his phallus and the object becomes a woman. In this particular scene, Clarke is woman in this subject-object relation. She is conditionally brought into Bleek’s world and stripped of her identity to nothing more than her sexuality.
Lee complicates conventional ideas of black masculinity by giving male leads power and freedom over their sexuality—the same power and freedom that we saw Bleek exhibit over his trumpet. Bleek is self-aware of his sexuality as a naturalized part of himself since in Lee’s eyes, “Black men are sexual beings, not brutes: vulnerable to their passions, not victims to them” (Elise and Umoja 12). Lee creates dimension in Black male sexuality and identity, but he does this at the expense of women, reducing men’s relationship to women as purely sexual (Elise and Umoja 14). This remains as a problem that needs to be addressed in Lee’s films (the women as objects of domestication in Crooklyn, the women as objects of pleasure in School Daze); however, Lee creates new media representations of Black masculinity through his camerawork, which should be acknowledged nonetheless.
Spike Lee Constructs the New Black Man: Mo’ Better
By Sharon Elise and Adewole Umoja