One of the major cinematic projects of my Covid-quarantine has been a complete Spike Lee retrospective.
While preparing a comprehensive exegesis of his oeuvre, I delved a bit too deep into his Summer of Sam, so much so that my exegesisizing of this one title now warrants its own breakout post.
Welcome to that post.
It can also serve as an aperitif for the bigger bite to come, because Summer of Sam boasts the narrative fuckery that I consider to be the most fascinating reoccurring feature of Spike’s modus operandi.
When watching Summer of Sam, ask yourself: what are the thematic connections between each of the characters’ storylines? Following loosely-related characters as they occupy the same famous time (1977) and place (New York City) isn’t novel, but refusing to draw explicit resonances between them — besides the obvious fact that they/we are all products of our shared cultural spatiality and temporality — should inspire the audience to decipher for themselves the nature of the foundation upon and around which the movie’s framework is structured. Beneath the aforementioned corporeal similarities, what links the characters’ respective plights, and what is their relationship to the central event here, the titular Son of Sam?
To utilize a modern comp, Summer of Sam seemingly resembles the Leo/Brad half of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood; we expect the movies to focus on the inner mechanisms that DIRECTLY led to their historic historical events, but instead, the majority of their durations are spent with more everyday figures, all being blown around in and by the same generational maelstrom. But whereas Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood ultimately converges the unknown with the universally known, Summer of Sam is more like if Leonardo’s Rick Dalton and Bradley’s Cliff Booth never interacted with the Manson clan nor Sharon Tate, but instead merely (but not so merely) felt their municipal impact.
Summer of Sam refuses to conventionally chronicle the specific details, the build-up to and aftermath of this seminal moment in America’s past. Rather, it’s more concerned with the ordinary people (who aren’t so behaviorally ordinary, which makes them ordinary humans, if you catch my drift) caught up in them, specifically how they both reflect and respond to the same environment that also acted as a crucible for the evolution (or devolution?) of the American experiment. Few of our names will appear in textbooks, but we all live on the same pages as those that will. Summer of Sam reads between the lines to reveal the illumination that can come from how fiction humanizes the facts.