Sex and cinema may have gone together from the beginning, but few filmmakers have been able to deal honestly with women's sexuality. And until Spike Lee burst upon the scene some eight years ago with "She's Gotta Have It," none had even acknowledged African American sexuality, let alone the black female libido.
With the brashness, inventiveness and sheer determination of a young artist sure of his craft but short of cash, Lee put a personal stamp on his picture that announced the arrival of a filmmaker to be reckoned with. Criterion's valuable unrated director's cut ($50) of Lee's first commercial venture clearly shows why the film caused a sensation at Cannes' Directors Fortnight and the San Francisco Film Festival. The rich transfer of cinematographer Ernest Dickerson's black-and-white photography (and one color scene) was made from a 35mm fine-grain master, the original 35mm magnetic audio master and a 35mm print.
"The best thing about 'She's Gotta Have It' is that it put me on the map and enabled me to make other films," Lee says on a second audio track, which also includes commentary from Dickerson, sound designer Barry Brown and production supervisor Monty Ross.
"We never go back and look at our films," Lee explains. "It's hard for me to look at them and see what I wanted to do and wasn't able to achieve."
What he was able to achieve on an initial shooting budget of $18,000 is a lyrical, slightly raw slice of life in the Brooklyn neighborhood in which he grew up, shot on the fly in 12 days. He and Dickerson call it "guerrilla filmmaking."
"It was like visual jazz," Dickerson says, "improvised within a structure. A style comes out of limitations. When you are doing it, you don't think about style, but the quickest, most efficient way to get a scene done. The style comes later."
From the beginning, Lee made good use of his talented family, starting with the evocative jazz score written and conducted by his father, Bill Lee, and framed by spare black-and-white stills "raided" from his brother David Lee's "blossoming art portfolio." Shelton J. Lee was producer.
Tracy Camilla Johns, who stars as the unashamedly sexual Nola Darling, was discovered after she sent a photo in the mail. Spike's sister Joie Lee played Clorinda Bradford; Bill Lee played Sonny Darling, and the piano on screen.
When another actor bailed out, Lee took on the role of Mars Blackmon ("I know him better than anyone else"), a character whose "Please, please, please baby, please baby baby, please" took on a life of its own, the rhythm of the words exploited in later Nike ads with Michael Jordan.
The sensual, even shocking, bedroom material, deleted to avoid an X rating, is included here. "When the decision came down (to delete the offending material), I thought it was racist," Lee recalls. Since the film was being released by independent Island Pictures, "they didn't have the firepower that the major studios have. They can change an X into an R," he suggests.
The film, which ultimately cost $175,000, including post-production, brought in an estimated$8 million, and Lee, at the helm of a new wave of adventurous, visionary black filmmakers, went on to make "School Daze," "Jungle Fever" and "Malcolm X," all stamped with his unique perspective.
But none have the freshness, even sweetness, of "She's Gotta Have It," raw filmmaking at its best, captured beautifully in this handsome laser disc produced by Donna Michele Edge and Mary G. Pratt and executive produced by Peter Becker.
Also included in the package is the imaginative original theatrical trailer, the film's music video, a deleted scene ("Clorinda moves out"), David Lee's unit photography work with his audio commentary, plus those jumping Nike ads and other supplementary material.
New Movies Just Out: "On Deadly Ground" (Warner, $35); "Reality Bites" (MCA/Universal, $35); "Geronimo" (Columbia TriStar, $35).
Old Movies Just Out: "Lonely Are the Brave" (1962, Uni, $35), a modern Western starring Kirk Douglas as an unconventional cowboy. "The Cowboys" (1972, Warner, $40), with John Wayne as a rancher leading a group of youngsters on a cattle drive.
Coming Soon: Voyager/Criterion releases Antonioni's 1960 film "L'Avventura," Wednesday at $70. Also due Wednesday from Voyager/Criterion, a fully restored and resubtitled edition of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1966 "Andrei Rublev," written by Tarkovsky and Andrei Milchakov-Konchalovsky ($100).
Also on Wednesday, a letterboxed edition of the thriller "Blink" with Madeleine Stowe and Aidan Quinn will be released by New Line/Image Entertainment at $40.
Paramount's "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" is due Wednesday at $40. MCA/Universal's "Beethoven's 2nd," starring Charles Grodin, is scheduled for Aug. 17 at $25.
On Sept. 7, Hollywood Pictures/Image Entertainment will release a director's edition of "Angie," the Martha Coolidge film starring Geena Davis, that will include director's audio commentary, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes view of the film, letterboxed, for $50.
Also in September, Kevin Costner's revisionist Oscar-winning Western "Dances With Wolves" will finally come to laser with an hour of additional footage that includes material not seen in the expanded version seen on TV, letterboxed at $125.