She's Gotta Have It – DVD Review

Fox & MGM Home Entertainment / 1986 / 85 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: January 15, 2008
List Price: $19.98. Buy it at Amazon.com

The Movie:

There was a time when Spike Lee wasn’t an irritating Knicks fan that spent more time on the court than Stephan Marbury. Once he was a fresh voice in indie filmmaking. The amount of cash he currently blows for front row seats at Madison Square Garden is equal to the budget he hustled for his first feature. Over two decades ago he exploded onto the arthouse circuit with She’s Gotta Have It. The urban semi-romance struck a chord with audience that were eager to accept a Spike Lee Joint. The film established Spike as a director and personality, but has it held up as a movie? Is it a great film or merely a calling card that allowed Spike to expand into more lucrative projects with his brand name?

The movie explores the sexual desires of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns). The Brooklyn woman isn’t ready to settle down with one man. She juggles three lovers with a fourth favor waiting in the wings. The men in her life are completely different. Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks) is a sensible and responsible man. He senses she’ll be his future wife. Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell) views Nola as perfect compliment for his gorgeous body. He’s a male model who needs a woman that can keep up with his sophisticated taste. Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) is an unemployed bike messenger who knows Nola is a sex freak. He climbs into her bed for the ride of his life. Opal Gilstrap (Raye Dowell) is a lesbian friend who lurks with the hopes of turning Nola into her woman. While Nola was a sex fiend, this was the mid-80s when bisexual fun wasn’t such a casual experience. The lovers aren’t happy with Nola’s arrangement. She’s playing spin-the-bottle with a stick of dynamite. The hook of the film is who is going to blow first.

Instead of being a pure drama, She’s Got to Have It is presented in faux documentary style. Everybody confesses to the camera. Characters establish themselves not through interactions, but by staring at the lens and blurting out their lines. This style has become the template for MTV’s Real World. The acting is rough so the “reality” filmmaking technique assists in conserving the actors’ believability in the roles. She’s Gotta Have It was the ‘80s version of My Fair Brady.

When She’s Gotta Have It was released, the color musical sequence seemed slightly out of place in the black and white movie. This Wizard of Oz homage was considered cute in the ‘80s. But after all these years, it kills the film. Why must we stare at prolonged modern dance sequence that doesn’t feature the leads? Maybe if there were intermittent reaction shots to see how Nola handles certain lines from the sappy song, it could connect. The song and dance is a true show stopper. It was almost as if Spike grabbed footage from a student project to extend the running time. The “Dog Montage” is still pure gold. The scene has a series of men using their best pick up lines. This moment will have you laughing or taking notes. Graffiti superstar and Yo! MTV Raps host Fab Five Freddy is amongst the suspects pouring the pimp juice.

The biggest reason to pick up She’s Got to Have It is the birth of an icon. Mars Blackmon became a hip-hop legend. People impersonated his “Please, baby, please” mantra. They wore his nameplate necklace and bike messenger fashions. Spike milked his Mars persona for the big bucks, but not on the big screen. Instead of making numerous Mars Blackmon films, Spike played Mars in Michael Jordan’s Nike ads. Those royal paydays allowed Spike to become a courtside fixture at Knicks games.

She’s Gotta Have It is Spike Lee planting his flag in cinema. He paved the way for other filmmakers with a dream. Would we have Tyler Perry without Spike Lee? As far Spike’s debut goes, this isn’t quite Citizen Kane done Brooklyn-style. The plot is slight and characters are as stiff as their actors. While we’re supposed to see Nola as a liberated black woman, she comes off as a major tool. She bounces between the three lovers as if this was a remake of Bob Fosse’s Star 80. While she imagines herself in control, all three men are shaping her to fit their needs. Like Dorothy Stratten, Nola is punished by a lover that doesn’t like her being with two other men. Although in the case of She’s Gotta Have It, her sexual assault doesn’t include a gun. Unlike certain indie filmmakers (such as Ed Burns) that are cursed to never create a movie more entertaining than their first feature, Spike Lee has developed as a director. She’s Gotta Have It was good for its time, but plays more like an artifact all these years later.

The DVD:

The DVD is in a black keepcase. It’s single sided and single layered. They didn’t use the original poster. Instead we’re given four head shots around the title.

A/V Quality Control:

She’s Gotta Have It was shot in Super 16 so while it’s a clean transfer, the image isn’t as sharp as a 35mm film. This is a very grainy film. The image is 1.66:1 anamorphic with black bars on the sides.

The audio is 5.1 Dolby Surround and Mono. The low budget nature of the film is exposed by the sound levels dropping off in certain scenes. This isn’t a seamless Hollywood production. The subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Special Features:
The lack of bonus features is quite sad. Couldn’t they let Spike Lee dig through his archive for vintage promotional materials? If you really want to get the behind the camera story, feel free to pick up Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It. This is his production journal. The Nike commercials featuring Mars Blackmon and Michael Jordan can be found online.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for She’s Gotta Have It
CONTENT

7.0
THE VIDEO

8.0
THE AUDIO

6.0
SUPPLEMENTS

0.0
REPLAY VALUE

6.0

OVERALL
7
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

The Inside Pulse
Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be given to Spike Lee is that She’s Gotta Have It is not his best film. He has grown as a filmmaker. Fans of Spike’s work will enjoy being able to get his debut on DVD.