[Disc Review] Spike Lee’s biting but uneven satire ‘BAMBOOZLED’ enters the Criterion Collection

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

BAMBOOZLED (2000)

Rated R, 136 minutes.
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Damon WayansSavion GloverJada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rapaport, Thomas Jefferson Byrd and Paul Mooney
Available today on Blu-ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection.

Movie Grade: C+

Spike Lee’s career is arguably a bit all over the place. But there’s no denying he’s a smart filmmaker who has produced some of the most thoughtful pieces of cinematic art. From Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X to BlackKklansman, Lee uses the visual medium as a true means of expression. He has a lot on his mind, and film is an avenue in which he pours out those thoughts, with some titles being better than others.

Entering the Criterion Collection this week is 2000’s Bamboozled, one of Lee’s most challenging films. Through the story of a frustrated black TV writer (Damon Wayans) who proposes a blackface minstrel show, Lee examines the past, present and future of racism in American pop culture.

As powerful as many scenes are, they are somewhat scattered. It’s a heavy-handed experiment that is more fascinating to talk about than endure. (This is why Criterion’s bonus features are the best thing about this release, making it land on the positive end of the scale.) The fact that the film was shot primarily on unvarnished digital video doesn’t make it easier. While the approach provides a televised feel and has the advantage of capturing more natural reactions, it distracts from absorbing the thematic elements.

For a film that is largely about a frustrated TV writer filtering his frustration through his new creation, you can feel Lee doing the same with his film. That anger raises many insightful points about the world we live in and how entertainment has viewed and portrayed black culture. The concluding historical montage sequence alone deserves to be seen. (Thankfully, it’s explored in greater detail in Criterion’s bonus content, calling to mind the power of BlackKklansman‘s ending montage.) However, the emotional resonance doesn’t carry through the film’s entirety. It feels too strung together at the last minute. A documentary would have proved more effective. (That’s where the extras come in to save the day.)

Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

Extras Grade: A

The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release features a new 2K digital restoration, with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. The bonus content includes a 2001 audio commentary with Lee, a new conversation between Lee and critic Ashley Clark, new interviews with various cast and crew members, a new interview program featuring media scholar Racquel Gates, a 2001 making-of, deleted scenes, music videos, alternate parody commercials, a poster gallery, a trailer, and an essay by Clark that can be found in the liner notes.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New 2K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Ellen Kuras and approved by director Spike Lee, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2001 featuring Lee
  • New conversation between Lee and film programmer and critic Ashley Clark
  • New interviews with choreographer and actor Savion Glover, actor Tommy Davidson, and costume designer Ruth E. Carter  
  • On Blackface and the Minstrel Show, a new interview program featuring film and media scholar Racquel Gates  
  • The Making of “Bamboozled” (2001), a documentary featuring Lee; Glover; Davidson; actors Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Rapaport, and Damon Wayans; and other members of the cast and crew
  • Deleted scenes, music videos for the Mau Maus’ “Blak Iz Blak” and Gerald Levert’s “Dream with No Love,” and alternate parody commercials created for the film
  • Poster gallery and trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by Clark
About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.