Monday, August 31, 2009

'What's Inside is Just A Lie': Passing Strange


Above: Stew as The Narrator, left, and Daniel Breaker as Youth in Passing Strange.


Stew and Spike Lee, above.

Passing Strange, the film by Spike Lee of the theatrical performance of the play of the same name by Stew (Mark Stewart) and Heidi Rodewald is an exuberant and spiritual retelling of the eternal struggle to find one’s self in the arts. When I missed its Broadway run, I was disappointed and therefore very happy to learn that Spike Lee had collaborated in remaking it as a film. And if any recent Broadway show deserves a life on film, Passing Strange surely does.

As much as it is a focus on the efforts of Youth, played by Daniel Breaker, with retrospective backup provided by the Narrator (Stew), to recreate himself ---from a young, middle class, African American man from South Central L.A., to a musician living the bohemian life in Europe and in search of The Real-- I found it filled with wonderful, universal truths, hard-learned lessons and reflections. Whether you are young and finding yourself on the first steps on this road, or you are someone who lived through variations on this theme decades ago, you will find yourself inspired and elated by Passing Strange, a visionary, psychedelic and musical journey, by Stew and Heidi Rodewald.

Youth turns his backs on the life in which he found himself in L.A. and works hard at reestablishing himself as “a construct.” (A frequent and funny reference among the Marxist and material culture minded Europeans in the films.) The entire cast is remarkable: Along with Stew and Mr. Breaker, De’Adre Aziza, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones, move back and forth in amazing, dizzying tangents, as they switch from a church group in South Central L.A. to punk rockers and on to young Dutch and German artists and radicals in the 70s. Eisa Davis is transporting as Youth’s Mother.

At one point, the Narrator, who puts himself, as Youth, under the microscope on many occasions, observes how funny it is that our adult lives are often dictated by decisions made by teenagers (that is, ourselves as teenagers). Music, by Stew’s band, Negro Problem, featuring partner Heidi Rodewald is likewise amazing. Spike Lee’s direction seems to make clear that Passing Strange must have been a labor of love for everyone involved, just as, in its joyful and painful moments, it is art that will move you, change you, and stay with you for a long time to come.

The film is now at the IFC Theater in the Village, as well as on HBO On Demand.

Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgiguUKQ4S0

Stew’s site: http://www.negroproblem.com/




Bonus track: The Negro Problem, with a vocal by Colman Domingo, of Passing Strange, perform "Gary's Song" from SpongeBob Squarepants, composed by Stew.
"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pY3TlrisIBQ
Posted by Blackberry

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