Back in May, when the Knicks were Ewing-driven and an impossible-dream
eighth seed, Spike Lee's mind was where it should be: concentrated on Summer
of Sam. He discussed his new movie at the 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. I remember it vividly. The Yankees had just signed Reggie Jackson. I'd
finished my sophomore year at college, couldn't find a job, and was just
hanging around. I bought a super-8mm film camera and 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."
Peter Keough's review of Summer of Sam
And what about his film's 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 10 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
"But we couldn't do that. The train had left the station. We were spending
Disney's money. The boat had left the pier! I feel very deeply for the parents
-- but I am an artist. This film is not a glorification of David Berkowitz. This
is a story I wanted to tell."