Rumbling in the Bronx

Spike Lee spins a raucous '70s morality tale

Imperioli feels the vigilantes were reacting to alternative lifestyles that began spreading into working-class areas in the '70s. Says Imperioli: ''The Vietnam War was over, there's free sex and love. Casual drug use moved into the suburbs. People in the Bronx at the time didn't know what the fuck punks were. They were like aliens. When Jimmy Breslin printed Berkowitz's letters with all these Satanic references, urging him to kill, and then you see these punks, some people made connections.''

Imperioli, who had worked with Lee on Jungle Fever, Girl 6, and Clockers, initially hoped to direct the film, but soon felt overwhelmed by the project. ''As the script evolved, it became this big New York story including events like the blackout in '77--it was kinda beyond someone who was going to direct for the first time. Besides, Spike is a New York storyteller.'' Lee has been involved in extensive rewrites of the script for the last year and a half. Jennifer Esposito, whose sister and grandmother lived on the same block as Berkowitz victim Stacy Moskowitz, feels that Lee's involvement does the period and the neighborhood justice. ''As someone who's been asked a lot to do Italian stereotypes, like I did in Kiss Me, Guido, I think Spike has presented a really broad range of characters.''

''There are still folks who, after Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, think I don't have white characters in my films,'' says Lee. ''Then the African Americans are going to say I'm a sellout because the movie doesn't have a black theme.'' Lee felt he could do Summer of Samnot just because he lived through the era, but because he knew the characters well. Lee, who said his was the first black family to move into Brooklyn's Cobble Hill in the '70s, says, ''I don't think there's anybody in this script that I haven't met or I'm not familiar with. One thing I will admit that was alien to me was punk rock music. I had to do serious research on that. I like the energy, and their conviction that even if they can't sing or play instruments, they still have something to say. The fact that they're not musicians doesn't stop them from expressing themselves.''

Bristling at the pretty vacant tone of '70s revivalism, Lee seems determined to let the '70s express themselves. ''Nowadays, when people look at the decade, they want to make fun of it as a joke--the bell-bottoms, the hair and the disco music. . . . But I'm telling you, when you're from that era, and you were in it, that shit was slammin'.''

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