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Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ight outta the gate I have to say that Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus (a VERY loose remake of the 70’s blaxploitation film Ganja & Hess) is not as bad as critics are making it out to be. Now, some of the acting is a little strange (the delivery of some actors straddles the line between flat & overly theatrical). Some moments in the film are random for the sake of being random. The two protagonists fall in love with each other unbelievably fast (I don’t care if it’s just a movie. The characters of Ganja & Hess fall in love WAY too quickly). And maybe this is me being nitpicky, but I found the lighting in certain scenes to be a little too dark (perhaps that’s part of the problem that comes along with digital filmmaking). However Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is still ambitious and that counts for something in my book. Sorry, but these days if I have the choice between something “safe”/non-threatening versus something problematic yet ambitious – I’m going to go with the latter.  Much like how A Most Violent Year is a non-gangster GANGSTER film, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is a non-vampire VAMPIRE film. The story centers around “Dr. Hess Green” – a lawyer & collector of ancient African artifacts who comes under a mysterious spell that makes him addicted to blood. He’s not exactly a vampire (he doesn’t have long sharp teeth and isn’t allergic to sunlight) but his thirst for blood (and what he does to attain it) would make you think he is a vampire. Like most vampire (…or vampire-ISH) films, Dr. Green’s curse becomes too much for him to handle and things spiral out of control.

Between Only Lovers Left Alive & A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, vampire films are a “thing” again within independent/art-house cinema (for those of you who don’t remember, there was a bit of a Vampire renaissance in the mid-90’s with films like Nadja & The Addiction). In some ways, Spike’s latest reminded me of Claire Denis’ Trouble Everyday (another modern non-vampire vampire film where you never actually see any sharp teeth, but there’s plenty of blood & murder). There’s even a painful scene in Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus where our protagonist Dr. Green murders a woman during sex that kind of mimics the disturbing finale of Trouble Everyday where Vincent Gallo literally “eats out” his poor victim.

There are quite a few levels to this film yet no one seems to be looking deeper. Putting aside the noir-ish/thriller aspects of this movie, it obviously touches on issues like addictions, gender, racism & class. Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus also clearly acts as a metaphor for the transmission of STD’s (specifically HIV & AIDS) among people of color. But because it’s labeled as a vampire film, no one seems to be taking it seriously.

I found myself getting incredibly frustrated at people (specifically so-called Spike Lee fans) dismissing Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus upon seeing the trailer (I honestly thought the trailer was great). Unfortunately, whether Spike Lee fans realize this or not, he’s held to a strange (unfair?) high standard where people are still expecting him to make another Do The Right Thing or Malcolm X (I guess that’s what happens when you’re one of the very few talented black filmmakers working in the mainstream). Some of you may disagree with that statement but that’s the way I see it. Perhaps some folks forgot Lee’s indie/D.I.Y. roots (Joe’s Bedstuy Barbershop & She’s Gotta Have It). From the subjects & characters in Shirley Clarke’s films to the work of Melvin Van Peeples, the origins of black people in independent film has always been a little against the grain, “left field” & grass roots-based. Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is no exception. Plus, not every Spike Lee film is going to be a game-changer. I think some people have a hard time accepting that. If you aren’t expecting a 40 acres & a mule classic and just looking for an interesting film to kick back with (it’s now streaming on Vimeo), Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus is certainly worth your time (although I don’t think it needed to be 130 minutes long).

No matter how problematic this movie is, it represents Spike Lee’s ability to still step outside of his comfort zone and do something different. It shares strands of the same DNA as his previous work. Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus definitely takes place in the same cinematic realm as Redhook Summer. The opening sequence feels like a scene out of He Got Game, there’s a touch of She Hate Me in there, and the supporting cast features long-standing Spike Lee repertory actors like Joie Lee, Cinque Lee & Thomas Jefferson Byrd.

There’s been a tiny black cloud looming over Spike’s head (and his career) for quite some time. That’s partially his fault. His last film Oldboy (a remake of the popular Korean film) felt a little flat, and his film before that, Redhook Summer, might be the worst thing he’s done since Girl 6 (sorry, just my opinion). Lee caught a lot of heat for crowd-sourcing his latest project and I understand that on some level. Back in 1992 he reached out to a few famous celebrities & athletes (Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, etc) for additional funding in order to finish Malcolm X when he went over budget. That was in 1992. What stopped him from reaching out to his famous (wealthy) friends/peers in 2014? Why does he need our money? Maybe that’s none of my business. I certainly don’t want to be in other people’s pockets. I just find it peculiar when rich people take to crowd-sourcing to fund a project. Spike’s recent rant about gentrification in New York City also didn’t sit well with some folks, even though he was right in what he said for the most part.

Because of all this, I feel people are going to unfairly judge and/or dismiss Lee’s new work (possibly before even seeing it). Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus has a lot working against it. It’s being released with its back against the wall which is unfortunate because it really isn’t that bad. Had Ava Duvernay or Lee Daniels made the same exact film, I’m sure people wouldn’t be so harsh.

7/10

 

[imdb id = “tt3104930”]

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Marcus is a contributing author for CutPrintFilm and Editor in Chief of <a href="http://www.pinnlandempire.com/">Pinnland Empire</a> You can also hear Marcus on the <a href="http://www.syndromesandacinema.com/">Syndromes & a Cinema</a> podcast.

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  • Michelle Kirkwood

    Looking forward to seeing this,even though it’s already played at one theatre (and I missed it,darn it.) Hoping that it plays somewhere else in another theatre I can go to. And so what if Spike turned to crowdsourcing to get his films made—-white indie directors do this all the time, so why should only Spike get dogged out for it? If he was as rich as everyone seems to think, he wouldn’t need to go to the crowdsourcing crowd to get is films made. He’s not on the level of George Lucas, who was able to not only make RED TAILS (because no Hollywood studios was willing to get behind a film about black fighters during World War II, the bastards) but actually pay for the promotion of the film himself just to get it distributed by a studio.

    And,yeah, his stock has definitely gone down in recent years—-the major box-office failure of MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA caused that. Basically, he’s not considered a good investment anybody in terms in his films. And also, he’s been doing this as an indie filmmaker since he started out–hustling to get his films funded. So this is,honestly, old hat for him. He’s just doing it the new updated way like everyone else.

    • Marcus

      fair enough. this film has actually grown on me in the last month. i watched it a few times.
      I just feel like from years of nike endorsements to crystler commercials w/ derrick jeter (not to mention the various properties he owns in NYC) I would think Spike Lee would have a decent amount of money to fund his own work. but I dont want to get in his pockets/personal finances. Zach Braff & James Franco caught a ton of heat for crowdsourcing, but not like Spike Lee.