September 15, 1995 in Seven

Lee: ‘Clockers’ Not Just ‘Another’ In Genre

Steven Rea Philadelphia Inquirer

Spike Lee’s “Clockers,” adapted from Richard Price’s big, boiling 1992 novel and set in the projects and bodegas of a Brooklyn wasteland, is all about the lure of money, the ravages of crack cocaine, and the violence and hopelessness of ghetto life.

The film, which opened Wednesday, stars Harvey Keitel as a hardened homicide detective, Delroy Lindo as an entrepreneurial dealer with a paternal sway over his young drug runners, and newcomer Mekhi Phifer as his 19-year-old protege, who oversees a corner network of teen and preteen crack sellers.

In short, “Clockers” contains all the elements of, as Lee puts it, one of those “black shoot-em-up hip-hop drug gangsta rap films.”

But Lee’s hope - and his intention, when he inherited this Martin Scorsese castoff from Universal Pictures - is that “Clockers” won’t be perceived as just another urban-gangster drama.

“We felt that if we were successful, this would hopefully be the final nail in the coffin,” is a line Lee repeated like a mantra during a weekend of interviews to promote the picture.

Says Lee, seated in a hotel suite early on a Saturday morning: “As far as that genre goes, I think that John Singleton and the Hughes Brothers have covered it already - ‘Boyz N the Hood’ and ‘Menace 2 Society’ - but the other films in that genre are lacking. The genre is in an oxygen tent, on its last gasp, thank God. …

“So yes, I was hesitant to take on this project. I had to sit down and think how can we make it different? What different spins can we put on it? If we didn’t do that, then we’d just be very late in the game.”

According to Richard Price, who originally adapted his 600-page novel for Scorsese and Robert De Niro (who was talking about starring as Rocco Klein, the homicide cop eventually played by Keitel), Lee vowed to “blow all that stuff out of the water.”

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