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  Jungle Fever A New York Love Affair
Year: 1991
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Spike Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, Anthony Quinn, Halle Berry, Tyra Ferrell, Vernoica Webb, Veronica Timbers, David Dundara, Michael Imperioli, Debi Mazar
Genre: Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) seems to have his life wrapped up with a neat bow: he is a successful architect, he is happily married to Drew (Lonette McKee) and has a daughter (Veronica Timbers) who adores him, plus he lives in a very comfortable apartment in Brooklyn. But when his request for an assistant at work doesn't go the way he would have hoped, it sets off a chain of events that throws his existence into near-chaos. Being an African American, he wanted an assistant of the same race at the otherwise all-white office, but what he gets is Italian American Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), who is eager to please nevertheless. Yet maybe they're too eager to please one another...

Spike Lee had courted controversy, but won much acclaim, for Do the Right Thing in 1989, yet his follow up was jazz drama Mo' Better Blues which was not much admired, and even accused of racism. Thus with Jungle Fever he returned to firmer ground and portrayed an interracial affair which it was clear he had mixed feelings about, possibly because his father had married a white woman after Spike's mother had passed away. Much - but not all - of the dramatic tension rested on whether Flipper and Angie could stay together, but even that was not as cut and dried as it might appear, the point being race is not as simple as black and white, there are plenty of complications when it comes to who we like.

Everyone here is keen to offer advice, hence the amount of speechifying we were given where characters went off on one to pontificate on why they thought the central couple were, er, doing the right thing or not. Many of the white characters found their latent and no so latent racism erupting at the thought of this affair, once it is revealed (for some reason Flipper calls attention to themselves at a restaurant), but the black characters were no less disturbed, unwilling to let the couple be. According to Lee, this was because race was all they could see, they could not perceive anything past that, hence the amount of bigotry in stereotypes they spout while in those conversations, which could have been tricky.

In that after we were told by the arguments why this relationship should fail, there were doubtless going to be those in the audience who wholeheartedly agreed, yet if Lee was genuine in his own misgivings about this kind of romance, he appeared to have missed something in the performances of Snipes and Sciorra. They played Flipper and Angie as if their attraction was a lot more than mere "jungle fever", we sensed a real connection between them when they flirted and if the script had allowed it, they could have built on this chemistry and made for a stronger emotional basis for the conflict. As it was, Lee as often was cramming as much into his efforts as possible, and appeared to have been stung by criticism that Do the Right Thing had been neglectful in not mentioning the crack problem.

Therefore as well as being invited to ponder why a black man would be attracted to a white woman and vice versa, we were also asked to take in Samuel L. Jackson in a performance of such searingly uneasy import as Flipper's drug addict brother, all the better to contemplate the problem that afflicted America at the time, and indeed continues to. While it was true if the brother's scenes had been left out it would have resulted in a more focused picture, it also brought in the matter that racism and disadvantage caused all sorts of problems for the black community that triggered a second-class citizen view of them from the wider society, so it all slotted in to the overall portrait of the United States Lee was fixated on painting. While the conclusion of the couple may not have been too much of a surprise, as frequent with this director an ambiguity was present, with John Turturro as Angie's dumped boyfriend inspired by his humiliation to ask out the black woman (Tyra Ferrell) he has a crush on, and in this move to breaking the rules of their community in a positive way, we can see there is hope. Maybe in the future we can look back on films like this and wonder what the fuss was about; that may be some while off, though. Music by Stevie Wonder and Terence Blanchard.

[The BFI release this on Blu-ray with these features:

Newly recorded audio commentary by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill
The Independent Interview with Spike Lee (2009, 74 mins): as part of the BFI's season Fight the Power: Do The Right Thing in Context, Spike Lee was interviewed on stage at the BFI Southbank by politician David Lammy
Archive featurette (1991, 8 mins): short featurette about Jungle Fever with contributions from Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra and John Turturro
Top Deck (1962, 30 mins): a tale of love won and lost told through a changing, often jaunty, soundtrack and location filming focuses on bus conductor Marlene and her easy-going but over-confident American army officer boyfriend Johnny
Original theatrical trailer
Image gallery
**FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Illustrated booklet featuring new essays by Kaleem Aftab and Kambole Campbell, an archival essay by critic Armond White and full film credits.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Spike Lee  (1957 - )

Talented, prolific American director who has courted more controversy than most with his out-spoken views and influenced an entire generation of black film-makers. Lee made his impressive debut with the acerbic sex comedy She's Gotta Have It in 1986, while many consider his study of New York race relations Do the Right Thing to be one of the best films of the 80s.

Lee's films tend to mix edgy comedy and biting social drama, and range from the superb (Malcolm X, Clockers, Summer of Sam) to the less impressive (Mo Better Blues, Girl 6), but are always blessed with passion and intelligence. Lee has acted in many of his films and has also directed a wide range of music videos, commercials and documentaries. Inside Man saw a largely successful try at the thriller genre, Oldboy was a misguided remake, but he welcomed some of his best reactions of his career to true crime story BlacKkKlansman.

 
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