4 Little Girls review: Docs on the spot
Spike Lee Joint many are familiar with his works as a director. From the provoking Do the Right Thing, Jungle Love, to works such as Malcolm X is a director that is not afraid to provoke. In analyzing his style and approach, sometimes it appears that he goes out of his way to snap his audience out of comfort zones regardless of the politics. At times all within a scene seem charged with the audience captivated waiting for what might be revealed. Yet this talented director has only received two Academy Awards in his career. One, a seeming nod of recognition form the academy for best screenplay in Do the right thing. The other was for Best documentary. While he did not win that one either, it was respect for a remarkable documentary: 4 Little Girls.
The focus of this documentary is 4 little girls... or to be more specific the four little girls who were killed in an explosion at the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama. An blast occurring just four days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream speech."
As soon as he steps foot in Birmingham, Spike Lee wastes little time compiling witness, family, and expert interviews as well as pursuing historical footage of the times. Historical footage utilized in an attempt to fully embrace his viewers into the world of 1963 Birmingham. Beyond the sights, Spike Lee also made sure to capture the sounds of the time. Music to immerse the viewers as well as to further emote the feelings displayed. The viewers are introduced to a Jim Crow South containing almost everything in a bianary. One world is filled with steel mills and box-cars and homes ranging from the dilapidated to the middle class. In this setting marches of the Ku-Klux-Klan are juxtaposed to the marches of the freedom rides. Children's crusades at the church are pivoted against Bull Connor in a tank. A stark setting reinforced by the visual black and white images used.
Merely than embracing the viewer in the world of the time, with the setting established, Spike Lee artfully turns his attention to building his characters. Denise McNair becomes fully and artfully introduced. Though we meet her as victim, we come to know her as a person through a progression of photos skillfully set in family photo albums -- her play... her worship... her life... and... her body at the morgue. The other victims of the bombing are also brought to life. Though her living sister the pain of the missing Addie Mae Collins is still felt. Cynthia Wesley was a bright beloved adopted daughter of the high-school principle and a member of the choir. The viewers also discover that beyond being a girl scout, Carole Robertson also delighted with her skills playing the clarinet. All the while, skillful director Spike Lee uses the juxtaposing images to build the viewers emotional empathy. Not only that but his continual reference to the turning of a pages in the photo album are excellent transitory device.
This use of a photo album is a fitting image. Not only does forever hold the girls that were taken away, but it also serves as an excellent reminder of a time that was frozen. For all of the survivors their lives are not as clear, representative, or perhaps even as sharply defined as the four little girls whom may live in images that are frozen, but in death continue to call.
Now Spike Lee, being Spike Lee, I couldn't find a trailer for it... but here is an interview that was completed shortly after the release of 4 Little Girls