When he’s gotta have a video, Spike Lee heads straight out of Brooklyn. Sure, there are rental joints around his Fort Greene neighborhood, which will no doubt carry Lee’s Clockers when it debuts on video from MCA/Universal next month. But Lee says he can’t find ”the type of films I like to see” in anything but a specialty shop. So we asked him to take us to his idea of a video store: Kim’s Underground in Manhattan.
”It seems as we get toward the year 2000, three or four companies are gonna own everything in the world, [including] the video world,” says Lee, his 5-foot-6 frame wrapped in a baggy parka as he checks out Kim’s new arrivals on this brutally cold morning. ”When there are places like this,” he says, ”I like to support ’em.”
Housed in a cruddy little building on a touristy stretch of Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, Kim’s is anything but shabby when it comes to selection — it’s stocked to its low-slung rafters. ”They’ve got foreign films, independent films, martial-arts films,” he enthuses. ”Lotta offbeat stuff.” Yet for Lee, 39, the beat-up beams of the place are in a sense grave markers. More than a decade ago, when he was a film student at New York University, he worked in this very building as a 16 mm print inspector for the art-film distributor First Run Features. He checked splices upstairs, in a now-vacant space that also housed the repertory screens of the Bleecker Street Cinema and its Agee Room, where, he snorts, ”I got in for free.”
Rent increases, multiplexes, and home video killed off the theaters by the early ’90s, so 144 Bleecker is now chiefly the domain of tapes and magnetic particles instead of prints and photographic chemicals. ”I miss seeing [old] stuff on a big movie screen,” he says. (At home he has a 32-inch monitor because ”that video projection sh– is still too fuzzy.”) ”But film students now have access to the history of cinema,” he says. ”Before video, if you wanted to see how a certain shot was done… you had to have, like, an uncle that was a projectionist and have him be runnin’ stuff.”
You don’t need an uncle to study Lee’s stuff. In Kim’s ”screenwriter-director” section sit cassettes of each of the first seven Spike Lee ”joints,” including She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X. They’re a testament to the remarkable evolution of Lee’s movie muse — or at least they are once Lee rearranges them in chronological order. ”That is the truthful way to evaluate an artist,” he explains. ”You’ve gotta see a body of work. Has the artist developed? Are they goin’ backwards?”
Lee has said that his wife, lawyer Tonya Linette Lewis, thinks he is going backwards in his depiction of women with his phone-sex drama, Girl 6, due March 22. (”Just hold your comments till you see the film,” he’s told her.) Among his other coming attractions are a Michael Jackson video; a pilot for a CBS drama called Slim’s Table; and more TV commercials, for such companies as Nike and Levi’s.