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Spike Lee is quite a film-maker, is he not? Capable of stirring powerful emotions, capturing simmering tensions within communities and generally nailing the grit, spit and gittishness of city life.
What he’s not that great at – if his 1999 film Summer of Sam is anything to go by – is understanding the detailed development of punk music and fashion, as it unraveled across the world. Not that there’s really any reason why he would need to be, but he isn’t.
Why else would he cast Adrien Brody as Ritchie, a UK punk obsessive in New York in 1977, a disaffected young man with an eye on everything going on in London with the Sex Pistols and the Clash, and then dress him like a postcard punk from Carnaby Street in 1980? Or worse, a member of Rancid? It might seem like nit-picking, but NO ONE dressed like this in 1977, in New York or anywhere else. It’s too much, too soon. He might as well have given Ritchie an iPad.
Here’s Adrien explaining his character’s motivation:
The thing is, there was a thriving punk scene happening in Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the time, but the haircuts were more shaggy dog street urchin than hyper-spiky sea urchin, and the whole super-pronged choker, eyeliner thing all came a little later. Union Jack and RAF target T-shirts didn’t really kick in until the mod revival in 1979 either.
Of course, it’s easy to sneer at Spike’s wardrobe department, and mock Adrien’s inability to rock a Sid Vicious spiky-top convincingly (srsly, more spikes, less separation), but, as the Guardian’s Danny Leigh points out, Summer of Sam is “a movie that managed to get pretty much every reference point about punk wrong, but still somehow astutely tapped into why a gangling kid from a stifling Italian-American backwater might start spiking his hair and talking in a bad English accent, and what might befall him as a result.”
So, yeah, they did it like that on purpose. No, really.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic