Rating: Rated R
Itís not mandatory that you have lived in Manhattan before watching "The Summer of Sam," but after reading some of the ill-informed negative reviews Iíve seen, it would sure help your outlook. Having been a visitor to Manhattan, once, sometimes twice a week during the summer of 1977, I remember the panic in the city. Late at night, while walking through Port Authority Bus Terminal you could see the frightened women and the fear in their eyes. Because Samís victims all had dark hair, many women would actually bleach their hair to blond to escape the killer.
Spike Leeís new film about that torrid summer is not really a telling of the David Berkowitz--known as the .44-caliber killer--wave of terror but a comment on the entire social network of New York City and the United States back in the late 70s. For Berkowitz is only a character that the story revolves around in the headlines as we witness daily life in New York City during one of the hottest summers on record, the summer when the second blackout occurred--resulting in major looting--and the year when the president of the United States told New York to "drop dead."
This is Leeís most accomplished film to day, a vast panorama of people and places, many times shot in a very documentary manner and often with lines that sound as though they were made up on the spot. We meet mobsters and common citizens and visit famous spots like the punk rock headquarters--at the corner of Bleeker and the Bowery--the infamous CBGB and Studio 54. In a salute to a steamy past, thereís a stop at Plato's Retreat, another finger-up salute to the so-called moral decay of that decade.
The dialogue is tough and uncompromising and includes words I never thought Iíd hear on the screen so this movie is strictly for adults. But raw or not, these are the words that are bandied about every day, even in so-called polite society.
Thereís a block up in the Bronx where many of the characters meet to talk about the murders and begin to suspect that one of their group might be the killer. As they throw threats at each other the camera never misses a big "Dead End" sign that hovers just about their heads. Itís a point well taken.
"Summer of Sam" is not for everybody but for those who want a safe-taste of what it must of been like to live in New York at that time, this is the film to see.