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Spike Lee
Laurence Fishburne, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Ellen Holly, Art Evans, Ossie Davis
Writing Credits:
Spike Lee

Innovative filmmaker Spike Lee brings to the screen a music-filled, offbeat contemporary comedy that takes an unforgettable look at black college life. Amidst gala coronations, football, fraternities, parades and parties, the stars of the film - Laurence Fishburne ("Dap" Dunlap), an intense student who encourages his buddies ("DaFellas") to fight for his beliefs; Giancarlo Esposito (Julian "Big Brother Almighty" Eaves), out to strengthen the Greek system with his Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity brothers; Spike Lee ("Half-Pint"), driven to become a "Gamma man"; and Tisha Campbell (Jane Toussaint), leader of the sorority sister "Gamma Rays" - find themselves caught up in romance and relationship/rituals and rivalries during one outrageous homecoming weekend. With dynamic music, including EU's hit "Da Butt", and dance numbers choreographed by Otis Sallid (Fame), Lee successfully challenges viewpoints about self-identity and self-esteem in this original, contemporary musical comedy.

Box Office:
$6.5 million.
Domestic Gross
$14.545 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $19.94
Release Date: 2/1/2005

• Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee
• Audio Commentary with Actors Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Darryl Bell and Kadeem Hardison
• “Birth of a Nation” Featurette
• “College Daze” Featurette
• “Making a Mark” Featurette
• Music Videos
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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School Daze: Special Edition (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 1, 2005)

After the success of his first feature film - 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It - Spike Lee inevitably was pursued by the major studios to produce his next effort. Once Columbia grabbed him, Lee turned his eye toward a subject foreign to most moviegoers: the atmosphere at America’s traditionally black colleges.

Lee attended Morehouse, so his interest in this subject seemed logical. The result was 1988’s School Daze, an erratic but generally interesting look at the subject.

Daze focuses on the events at fictional Mission College during Homecoming Weekend and seems to be equal parts celebration and condemnation. The former appears evident through Lee’s emphasis on much of the pageantry of the occasion. A variety of events like step shows and parades receive much more screen time than one would expect, and though these scenes felt somewhat self-indulgent at times, I suppose they were necessary to provide viewers unfamiliar with the events the appropriate background.

Actually, Daze functions as a pseudo-musical, though it really only includes one true production number: a fantasy battle over hairstyles between the “Wannabes” - who allegedly want to look white - and the “Jigaboos” - who prefer more natural appearances - that seemed to take West Side Story as its inspiration. Other than that scene, we find some musical performances but all are more realistically integrated into the film. For example, a performance by go-go group EU occurs during a dance, and some ballads are sung at similar functions.

Daze was a hard film to categorize, and not just because of the musical scenes. It incorporates comedy and drama in such a way that neither truly dominates. In fact, certain scenes come across as both funny and harsh at the same time, such as some of the fraternity initiation sequences.

That side of Daze provides its main plot, though it really doesn’t follow much of a story. Instead, the film is more about conflicts. We see the antagonism between the Jigaboos and the Wannabes, between the fraternity brothers and the pledges, between townsfolk and college students, and between specific characters. Actually, the latter conflict is really restricted to progressive activist-sort Dap (Larry Fishburne) and Gamma Phi Gamma leader Julian, AKA “Big Brother Almighty” (Giancarlo Esposito). The two go at each other frequently, partially because Dap’s cousin Half-Pint (Lee) pledges G-Phi-G.

Like Oliver Stone, Lee has always been an extremely erratic filmmaker, and those tendencies are clearly on display in Daze. In many ways, it’s a weak movie. Though it’s character-based, the participants seem poorly-drawn and lack much development. We find them as thinly-rendered stereotypes and that’s largely how they stay.

Despite the presence of solid actors like Fishburne and Esposito, some of the performances are fairly bad as well. For some reason, the lesser work seems to fall on the female side of the fence. Tisha Campbell and Kyme both made for weak female leads; neither showed much acting talent as they made their characters wooden and uninteresting. Granted, some of the blame may lie on Lee; he’s never shown much of an affinity for female roles, and Daze is mainly a boy’s club other than the production number for “Straight & Nappy”.

Then there’s the ending. Lee also never seems to know how to conclude his films, and that problem occurs once more during Daze. I’m going to reveal the ending of the movie, so if you’re terrified of spoilers, look away. However, I can’t imagine that the knowledge of the conclusion will ruin the experience for anyone.

After some provocative events happen, the film ultimately concludes with shots of Dap as he runs around campus, yells “wake up!” and rouses everyone. The movie finally stops after Dap and Julian stand together; Fishburne looks into the lens and utters, “Please - wake up.”

When I see this scene, all I can think of is that Lee should have dropped a cow. That’s a method that was used on Saturday Night Live when they couldn’t come up with a conclusion to a skit. At an appropriate time, a fake cow would fall from the ceiling and that would end the piece; it made no sense, but it covered the absence of a good conclusion. Lee could have used a similar device.

Despite the many negatives against it, Daze actually provides a fairly interesting experience because it’s something different. Not only do we see a world that’s largely unknown to non-blacks, but we also find someone willing to urge African-Americans to settle their differences among themselves. At times it seems like black leaders and others are so eager to pin all of their race’s problems on whites, authority and other people that they refuse to acknowledge the divisiveness at home. Lee shines a bright light on the stupidity of these arguments and many other needlessly antagonistic aspects of blacks relationships with each other.

Nowhere does Lee condemn a group more than he does the black fraternities. Although I’m largely with him on this point, I think his portrayal of these organizations was too one-sided. Essentially Lee shows all of the harmful aspects of the fraternities but doesn’t demonstrate anything positive about them. Frankly, I’ve always thought fraternities - black, white, or whatever - were silly, and the excessive nastiness of the pledging process never made much sense to me; to have to debase yourself so just to join some little club is dopey. Nonetheless, there must be something positive about these groups other than the fact they seem to make it easier for members to meet women, and Lee should have balanced his viewpoint.

As I already mentioned, virtually all of Lee’s films have flaws, and School Daze is probably more erratic than most. From the lack of a story and a focus to largely weak acting and characters, the movie’s a bit of a mess. Nonetheless, it does provoke thought and it offers a look at a side of life unseen by most of us. Those aspects make it worth a look.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

School Daze appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie displayed some minor concerns, as a whole it looked quite good.

For the most part, sharpness seemed clear and accurate. Some wider shots showed moderate softness, but these occasions remained in the minority. Most of the film appeared nicely detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges showed no concerns. Print flaws were minor but they cropped up on occasion. I saw a few nicks, some speckles and grit, and a little grain, but no more significant defects like tears, blotches, scratches or hairs could be seen.

Colors generally seemed nicely bright and bold, with tones that appeared accurate and solid. At times, some hues looked slightly oversaturated, especially when we see red light; those instances came across as somewhat heavy. However, most colors were strong.

Black levels also looked deep and rich, but contrast could be a little weak and shadow detail was a bit thick. Some low light situations were somewhat difficult to discern. The film also used some diffused sunlight that made a few scenes look murky; for example, the shots in the Kentucky Fried Chicken showed these concerns. However, these issues - plus others, like the golden tint on the film’s climax - were clearly stylistic choices and not problems with the transfer. Ultimately I found School Daze to offer an attractive image.

The film also provided a very solid Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack. This mix showed its age but it largely seemed quite positive. The soundfield stuck fairly strongly to the forward channels, where it offered very good separation of music; the score and songs seemed vividly spread across the speakers. Effects also showed nice breadth in the front at times, and the imagery integrated acceptably well. The surrounds mainly bolstered the score, and they did so nicely; some effects also came from the rears, but these were a minor component.

Audio quality appeared slightly dated but it was generally strong. Dialogue showed some thinness but speech largely sounded fairly natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were also a little flat, but they seemed fairly clean and accurate without distortion. Music worked best, as the score and the songs appeared acceptably bright and clear, plus they featured decent low end. The bass could sound a bit loose, but it seemed pretty deep for a mix of this era. All in all, the soundtrack worked very well for its material.

How did the picture and audio of this new School Daze special edition compare with those of the original 2001 DVD? To my eyes and ears, the pair seemed identical. The new Daze appeared to sport the same picture and audio as the old one.

This 2005 special edition does expand the meager supplements from the prior DVD. It includes two audio commentaries, one of which repeats from the prior release. That one comes from director Spike Lee, who offers a running, screen-specific discussion. This means we hear lots of statements that tell us who the actors are. Spike also adds gems such as “the character I play is called ‘Half-Pint’”. Thanks, Spike - what an insightful bit of information! Lee seems to be under the impression none of us have ever seen the movie, as he often just relates the names of characters and narrates the story.

To be fair, he occasionally adds some interesting tidbits, such as the fact the production was booted from Morehouse College three weeks into the shoot. Lee also talks about some of his own college experiences and his attitudes toward the black fraternities. However, such morsels are rare. Most of the commentary offers silence, though Lee also occasionally laughs at his work. Early in the track, he tells us he hasn’t watched the movie in years, and I get the impression he barely remembers it. While the commentary improves slightly as it continues, it never becomes consistently interesting, and it remains a dull disappointment.

For the second commentary, we hear from actors Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Darryl Bell and Kadeem Hardison. All five sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. That factor makes it a raucous affair, as the participants tend to talk over each other at times. At least this means the track rarely slows down, as it comes packed full of chatting.

Much of the material stays anecdotal, but the crew deliver an interesting impression of the production. We get notes about how they got their roles, the discrepant ways Lee treated different groups, Lee’s terse style as a director, and many stories from experiences during the shoot. I definitely found value in the notes about how Lee increased the tension between various factions, and the track also delves into semi-off-topic but still fun topics like a comparison of Lee and Robert Townsend. We also hear interesting comparisons between the realities of fraternities and black college life and their depiction in the movie.

Despite the size of the group and their frequent raucousness, the track rarely becomes chaotic and incoherent, and it also hardly ever loses steam. The participants slow down a bit during the second half, but not to a detrimental degree. Overall, the commentary is a lot of fun, as it provides an amusing and informal look at the production.

Three featurettes follow. The 24-minute and eight-second Birth of a Nation comes first, as it presents movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and interviews. The latter mix new and old sources, and we hear from Lee, Cundieff, Hardison, Bell, Campbell, Nunn, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, casting director Robi Reed, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, cultural critic Nelson George, editor Barry Alexander Brown, and actors Jasmine Guy, Roger Guenveur Smith, Cylk Cozart, Giancarlo Esposito, and Larry Fishburne. The program covers the origins of the story, the relationships among crewmembers and the growth of Lee’s core group, location problems, casting and various relationships, character development and issues connected to the fraternities, Fishburne’s presence on the set and his influence on others, and Lee’s move from independent film to a big studio release.

As a synopsis of the production, “Birth” is a little weak. It repeats a moderate amount of information from the commentaries and it doesn’t cover the flick in a complete manner. However, it presents a nice slice and consistently offers an entertaining view of things. “Birth” goes over enough useful material to make it worthwhile, and it does so with wit and charm.

Next we find the 18-minute and 37-second College Daze. It includes notes from Lee, Dickerson, Reed, Carter, Esposito, Cozart, Nunn, Hardison, Bell, Smith, George, Brown, and actor Samuel L. Jackson. “Daze” follows the participants’ college experiences, how the movie reflected reality, the flick’s perspective and what it’d be like to try to make it today. I’d have liked more stories from college, but there’s still a lot to like about this piece. It gets into subjects beyond the movie and provides a nice look at various elements that influenced the flick.

For the final featurette, we get the 21-minute and three-second Making a Mark. It includes comments from Lee, Smith, Cozart, Brown, Hardison, Cundieff, Bell, Nunn, Esposito, Dickerson, Campbell, Guy, George, Jackson, and actor Branford Marsalis. They discuss the collaboration between Fishburne and Lee, shooting the step sequences and other favorite scenes, the movie’s moments of sex, dancing and party shots, and thoughts about the movie’s ending and themes. Largely anecdotal in nature, “Mark” gets into many fun tales about the shoot. It balances out “Birth” and helps give us a nice examination of the flick.

Three music videos also appear. We find clips for “Be Alone Tonight” from the Rays, “Be One” from Phyllis Hyman, and “Da Butt” by EU. The first two are nothing more than compilations of movie snippets, and that makes them pretty useless. “Da Butt” consists entirely of new footage that shows a lot of dancers and some lip-synching by EU. It’s not anything special itself.

For more music, we head to a bonus CD that presents the movie’s soundtrack. It focuses on the tunes played in the flick. Unlike a companion piece in the recent Easy Rider reissue, the Daze soundtrack appears to include all of the songs from the movie, which makes it a nice addition.

Lastly, the Previews area includes some trailers. We find ads for She Hate Me, Badasssss!, Ali, Poetic Justice, Doing Hard Time, Higher Learning and Trois: The Escort. It seems odd that we find no trailer for Daze itself, as Sony DVDs usually provide ads for the movie on the disc. However, it should be noted that the original release of Daze also lacked the flick’s trailer.

After the rousing success of his first film, She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee went through his sophomore slump with School Daze. However, despite a number of flaws, the movie has enough going for it to merit a viewing; it’s inconsistent but provocative. The DVD offers generally solid picture and sound along with a pretty solid set of extras marred mainly by one crummy commentary.

If fans of the film hoped for an improved transfer of School Daze, they’ll go away disappointed. Since the movie always looked and sounded good, however, I don’t see that as being an issue. It does mean that anyone looking to upgrade will do so solely due to its extras. The new Daze includes a nice set of supplements, as it adds a good commentary, informative featurettes and a CD soundtrack. If those elements interest you, then this new version of School Daze will merit your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6363 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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