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‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’ is a mess, but a fascinating one through Spike Lee’s eyes

‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’ is a mess, but a fascinating one through Spike Lee’s eyes

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Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Written and Directed by Spike Lee (based on the film by Bill Gunn)
USA, 2015

Spike Lee films tend to fall into two categories, masterpieces and trainwrecks. His latest, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, leans to the latter. However, even his failures – including this – work as engrossing bits of cinema. The reason why Spike Lee is as fascinating even in his failures is because the same tireless, fiery energy is always present . He always has something to say in his films, even if he runs into trouble in how he says them: When Lee trips and falls, he hits the ground hard enough to shake you.

A remake of the 1973 Bill Gunn film Ganja & Hess, Lee’s film follows Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who after getting stabbed by an ancient artifact, becomes addicted to blood. Soon after he enters into a romance with Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), the ex-wife of the colleague who stabbed him, and the two confront the prospect of eternity with each other.

Stephen Tyrone Williams plays the part of Hess with a disconnected demeanor, sometimes a help to the film and other times at a  hindrance. The film’s most engagingly constructed scene finds Hess seeking redemption during a church service, and the flow of emotions that go through Hess are captured engagingly by Williams. There’s a magnetic fire in Zaraah Abrahams as Ganja. A few scenes allow her to transition between polar opposite emotions that she relishes in. After killing one victim for blood, her gasps of shock and horror slyly evolve into a smile of self-satisfaction and pleasure. The room temperature rises when these two are on screen together, their chemistry radiant.

Bruce Hornsby provides a score that is bizarrely out of place in this film, belonging more to a daytime soap opera than anything this film is going for. While it is admirable that the soundtrack is made by unsigned musicians, their songs feel wildly misused within the context of their scenes. Lee is curiously afraid of allowing silence in this film even in scenes where absence of sound would compliment them, instead stuffing as much music as he can to fill the spaces whether or not it works.

The script makes abrupt leaps of logic with its characters and circumstance. Ganja seems immediately unaffected by the news of her ex-husband’s suicide and jumps right into a relationship with Hess when he tells her the news. She doesn’t even pause to question it, nor Hess’s part in it. In fact, even those that knew her ex-husband was at Hess’s place before vanishing don’t even bring it up. The movie even detours just so it can devolve into softcore porn when a guest asks to take a shower so she and Ganja can get freaky.

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Spike Lee always examines and deconstructs ostracization and sociological labels in his films, and this time he takes his eye to the upper class. Amid the mess of plotting, Lee provides an incredibly intriguing intersection of race, class and religion with the common ground between them all being ostracization and isolation from all three groups. Hess and a colleague discuss how drinking blood wouldn’t be taboo in a society of blood drinkers, foreshadowing the type of class and societal dissection this film will enact. Hess is the only African American in his Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood – one scene he talks a colleague out of committing suicide on his property by callously remarking that he’s going to be the first target for the police as the only black man in his block.

Hess conducts much of his dark pursuits of blood in working class and impoverished neighborhoods, and in doing so Lee raises some questions involving how society forces a disconnect between classes of minorities, and that in doing so forces minorities of the upper class to prey on the lower classes to attain their societal stability. The film has to go through several scenes of aimlessness to get to powerful moments of examination like these, but it’s worth the cost in the end. Like Lee’s other hot messes of films, this one just needs time and some subsequent viewings to settle into an audience. With time and repeated viewings, something about the films gives the feeling that it could be looked back on fondly.

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