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School Daze: Special Edition

There's a divide on the all-black campus of At Mission College. Between All-Black Nationalist Dap (Laurence Fishburne) and Gamma Phi Gamma president Julian, aka "Dean Big Brother Almighty." Between Dap's girlfriend Rachel (Kyme) and sorority president (and Julian's girlfriend) Jane (Tisha Campbell). Between the "nappy haired" and the "wannabes." Or — to put it bluntly — between the lighter-skinned campus members, who look to assimilate, and the darker segregationists. In the middle is Half-Pint (producer-writer-director Spike Lee), Dap's cousin and an applying member of the G-Phi-G's who is in desperate need of getting laid for the first time to impress his fraternity brothers. Oh, by the way, it's also a musical comedy. Spike Lee's 1988 School Daze was his second picture (following 1986's She's Gotta Have It), and it's the sort of project you'd expect from someone who thought they'd never have a chance to direct again; it has musical numbers and crane shots and all the things a young filmmaker might want to cram in the show. And School Daze is crammed, but it's also chock-full of interesting characters, sequences, and ideas. Moreover, Spike Lee may have had a reason to fear this would be the end of his short career; his script addresses concerns among the black community about the nature of selling out and the argument of "authentic" blackness (considered laundry best not aired in public), while — like his next work Do the Right Thing (1989) — he also doesn't offer many answers other than "wake up." And even though the film seems to favor the segregationist's side (or at least makes its idealism seem more attractive), it also reveals the underbelly of "keeping it real." As a work of ideas, it's great — but Lee was still developing as a filmmaker. And though he can compose striking images, his sense of editing for fluidity wasn't fully developed yet, making some sequences feel clunky. This rough feel doesn't mortally harm School Daze, and it's well shot by Ernest Dickerson, featuring early performances by many talented performers including Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, and a cameo by the late, great Ossie Davis. Columbia TriStar presents School Daze in a two-disc special edition with a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras include two audio commentaries, the first by Spike Lee, and the second by cast members Tisha Campbell, Rusty Cundieff, Bill Nunn, Daryl Bell, and Kadeem Hardison. Also included is a "making-of" (64 min.) broken into three sections, three music videos, bonus trailers, and on the second disc, the film's original soundtrack. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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