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Spike Lee’s Secret Weapon

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Wednesday January 02, 2019

From IndieWire

Spike Lee’s Secret Weapon For 30 Years: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Composer Terence Blanchard
By: Eric Kohn

For three decades, Spike Lee has been one of the most reliable figures in American cinema, but one of his regular collaborators often hides in the credits: Composer Terence Blanchard has been a major part of Lee’s work since “School Daze” in 1988. Blanchard, who currently serves as the frontman for New Orleans-based jazz band The E-Collective, has been the source of emotionally resonant scores on many of Lee’s best works, from “Summer of Sam” to “25th Hour” and “Inside Man.”

For the latest Spike Lee joint, “BlacKkKlansman,” Blanchard and his band composed the catchy electric guitar lick that imbues 1970s drama with countercultural attitude. The story of black police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan by using a “white voice” on the phone, expands into a complex meditation on America’s torturous racial divide through the ages, and Blanchard’s music imbues many scenes with an immediacy that sets the stage for the contemporary finale.

Where did the electric guitar riff of the main theme come from?

TERENCE BLANCHARD: When I started thinking about the seventies, looking at the film and seeing those afros, the leather pants, the leather jackets, one of the things I started thinking about was Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, playing the National Anthem. I kept thinking that was one of the most patriotic things I’d ever heard. It seemed like me that he was screaming that we were all Americans.

I told Charles, our guitarist in the band, “Listen, I don’t want you to try to mimic Jimi Hendrix’s sound, because we don’t want to do that, but that’s the attitude that I want to have with this particular thing.” It worked out well. I told Spike I wanted to use an electric guitar, and he said, “Cool,” and we went for it.

And then you have the ending, with footage of the Charlottesville riots, which resurrects the main theme from “Inside Man.”

TB: Spike is the type of guy who shoots certain scenes hearing music. I’ll never forget in “School Daze” where you used Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.” You can tell it was shot with that in mind. There’s a lot of things like that. When he did the ending for “BlacKkKlansman,” he already had the “Inside Man” music in mind, and he told me about it. We had a discussion about it, I had another opinion about it, and he said, “No, trust me.” We did it and it worked well.

SL: When they recorded, the musicians were moved because they’re looking at the screen and reading the music. When we showed them the Charlottesville footage, they were shook.

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