Aristophanes and Spike Lee

Our History of Literature journey takes us to Aristophanes next.  I’m working on the episode now, which of course will have a heavy emphasis on his play Lysistrata. And then I realize that the play has been adapted to a modern-day setting for a movie (Chi-Raq) by none other than Spike Lee.

I admire Spike Lee and his films, although I probably have only seen about half of them (and none of the recent ones). I’ve always viewed him as someone with a vision and a voice, who fights to get his movies made, sometimes taking on more commercial projects in order to fund his more personal ones, but not really succeeding at that in any clear way. It seems like there’s a parallel to be found between the career paths of Lee and Orson Welles – wildly successful early film, celebrity, a rush of follow-up projects that don’t go as well, and then a whole patchwork career of artistic successes, even more artistic compromises, tangling with the studios, projects done for money, more celebrity, an utter devotion to film and what it can do (even as the film industry and/or viewing public repeatedly disappoints the filmmaker), and still more celebrity. In short, a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and a model for how a person with talent and an independent streak wrestles with the film establishment of his time.

In any case, it’s easy to see Spike as an artist who can appreciate the potential of a story like Lysistrata…although, well, let’s just say that gender relations have never exactly been one of his strongest suits. And after reading this Stranger review I’m a little worried. A taste:

Here we were, the most antisocial people in the writing world, reaching out to share the pain we had just experienced. The pain of Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s ambitious new film tackling inner-city Chicago violence through the power of the pussy (I wish I were exaggerating, but it’s based on the ancient Greek playLysistrata). A fucking horrible film. This film is so bad, that even after 20 minutes of commiserating with other reviewers, even after bitching about it on my date later in the evening for another 20 minutes, I still don’t know how to pour all my hate for this film into one review.

Ouch. On the other hand, Chi-Raq has also gotten several good reviews. It’s free for those of us who can stream Amazon prime videos.* And–in true History of Literature podcast spirit–we can learn from artistic failures as well as successes. What makes the movie fail (if indeed it does)? What, if anything, does that say about Aristophanes?

I guess I’ll have to watch Chi-Raq to see where I stand on this.

*I was mistaken about this. The movie has been produced by Amazon but is being released in theaters. 

3 thoughts on “Aristophanes and Spike Lee

  1. Lysistrata. Holy crap, how did I miss this play?

    Have you ever been in a conversation when someone says something deveastating and even though they continue to talk for 30 minutes you are stuck back on that one thing? I never knew about that play. Now you’re up my alley.

    I am sure that Chi-raq is too violent for me but I am fascinated with the concept. The power that women have, which I suppose cannot be separated from sex, but I believe is more than just sex. Anyone who doesn’t believe women are already empowered by their creator is not paying attention.

    Though, it would be nice to get our due without manipulation.


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