Can Dialectics Break Bricks Cinema: Nola Darling (Spike Lee, 1986)

Sunday 15 October 2023, Can Dialectics Break Bricks Cinema: NOLA DARLING 1986 * Spike Lee * 82 minutes * In English * Doors open at 20:00, intro & film start at 20:30.

Maybe the best feature film by Spike Lee is the one he made at the very beginning, the one that has been kind of dumped, left behind and forgotten about. The one before he started getting more money, and before he started doing the Hollywood shtick (שטיק). In a sense, it is an ode to the spirit of women, and the right for a woman to own her own body and decide her own fate.

The main character of this movie is Nola Darling, who has an ongoing relationship with three different men. It must’ve been almost impossible to find an unknown actress that would be able to handle a role like this, and Tracy Camilla Johns absolutely sparkles in an incredibly naturalistic way. This being a Spike Lee joint means that it is also about urban black culture, but that is actually in the background in relation to the film’s real focus – Nola Darling’s struggle for autonomy. It’s a surprisingly playful film, not only in its content, but also in its style and structure. Like I said, this was made before Spike went straight. Having said that, there is one sensitive scene that was rushed through insensitively, and Lee says in hindsight he regrets it. Once again, the great thing about these community cinemas is that it gives us the opportunity to discuss these issues after the screening.

It was shot in shimmering black-and-white, and there is a kind of lush sensuality in its camerawork, giving respect to the human body in ways that we don’t see in cinema much these days. It keeps its rough edges and is leagues away from a glossy CGI’d, photoshopped look, offering us a great alternative to the Barbie sham that is being hyped at the moment. This first film by Spike Lee was considered to be groundbreaking when it came out and a triumph of independent cinema, but for years now it’s been almost impossible to see. It’s snappy, clever, charming, and creative, but it’s Tracy Camilla Johns’ disarming performance as Nola that ignites the entire project and sets it ablaze.

Film night at Joe’s Garage, cozy cinema! Free entrance. You want to screen a movie, let us know: joe [at] lists [dot] squat [dot] net