The Story Behind the Greatest Movie Spike Lee Never Made
The director almost had a very different debut feature
2020 was a big year for Spike Lee, with two of the director’s films — Da 5 Bloods and David Byrne’s American Utopia — seeing wide release and critical acclaim. Over the course of his career to date, Lee has made a host of films on a variety of scales, from sprawling epics to filmed theater pieces. But, as is the case with nearly every great filmmaker, there are also a few notable projects that never quite materialized and leave an intriguing sense of what might have been.
A recent article by Charles Barfield at The Playlist explored Lee’s recent discussion, on the Directors Guild of America’s Director’s Cut podcast, of his unmade 1984 feature The Messenger. The film was set to star Giancarlo Esposito and Laurence Fishburne, and was reportedly about a bicycle messenger dealing with newfound responsibilities after his mother’s death.
Lee recalled his ambitious plans for the film, which would have had “car chases in the script, people jumping through roofs.” What happened? Apparently, money for the film fell through just before production. “I remember after assembling the cast and crew and telling them there was no money and, no money for the movie and no money for the time you spent in pre-production,” Lee said.
Decades later, Lee looks back on that experience as a kind of blessing in disguise. “I wasn’t equipped to do that stuff; stunts, it would’ve been a complete disaster,” he said. Instead, he focused on making a film on a more modest scale, which became She’s Gotta Have It, his critically acclaimed feature film debut. And Lee would go on to work with both Esposito and Fishburne in subsequent films. Still, if the stars and director of The Messenger wanted to work together on a new project, one suspects plenty of viewers would want to see what they have in store.
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