While one famous New Yorker holed up in his midtown tower for the night, another one was celebrating his new film just blocks away. Filmmaker Spike Lee held court at last night’s (Nov. 16) opening of a new Moncler boutique on Madison Avenue, debuting a music video, “Brave,” for the occasion. Using the song “Brave Suffering Beautiful,” from the 2008 Tony-award winning musical Passing Strange, Lee’s short film is an homage to his hometown — and part of the Italian brand’s “Tribute to New York” project, which also includes a 28-piece, stars-and-stripes capsule collection from Moncler veteran designer Thom Browne (proceeds from which will go to the Robin Hood charity to fight poverty).
The 59-year-old filmmaker worked with Passing Strange’s Stew and Heidi Rodewald, along with dancers Lil Buck, John Boogz and Damaris Lewis, shooting all over the city — including his childhood neighborhood of Fort Greene—and in the middle of August’s heat wave, giving the video strong Do the Right Thing vibes. We sat down with Lee to talk about the the song’s lyrics, New York City summers and why he’d like to work with Stevie Wonder again.
Can you get a little more specific as to what in New York inspired you for the film?
This call came out of the blue from Moncler, they wanted me to do a piece for their opening. I just wanted to do something that was the visual display of what makes New York City great. It’s the people. And also, I just love summers in New York City. Fire hydrants and Italian ices and Coney Island! That was filmed in August, when we had that heat wave that was insane.
Fort Greene Park features prominently and is special to you. What does Fort Greene mean to you now?
Exhibit B of Gentrification. I grew up when New York City was affordable. But New York City is not going to the greatest city in the world if only rich people can live here. What I always felt and continue to feel is that what makes cities great — and nations great — are the artists they produce. But young artists can’t afford to live in New York City.
How did you pick the song “Brave Suffering Beautiful”?
I know Stew and Heidi (Rodewald) from Passing Strange. I told them, let’s do something with it, make a film out of it.
What does the song’s title mean to you?
I think it takes even more importance after the recent change in the world. I think that even against great odds — and this man having the nuclear codes — we have to be brave. And move forward and mobilize.
Is this anything you’re listening to, post-election?
For [1991’s] Jungle Fever, Stevie Wonder did all the songs, and there is a song for the end credits called “Feeding off the Love of the Land,” which he did for the George Harrison tribute album. I wanted that to be in the soundtrack, but Stevie said it couldn’t because it was already on the George Harrison album. But we used it (in the movie, in end credits) and I just put the lyrics up on Instagram. I think that song is very apropos for the world we live in today.
You’ve done several concert films. Is there an artist you would still like to work with on one?
I would love to do a concert film with Stevie Wonder, in Carnegie Hall. I don’t know if Stevie has played Carnegie Hall. I just think that with this recent year, [where we lost] David Bowie, Maurice White, Prince, Phife Dog, Leonard Cohen… We gotta give people their love while they’re alive! Prince, that really fucked me up.