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Films >> Summer of Sam (1999) >>

Historically situated in the summer of 1977, Summer of Sam plunges the viewer into sweltering New York City hysteria. Juxtaposing fact and fiction, this film utilizes the creative-talent and fact-finding skill of three writers. Brainchild of Michael Imperioli and Victor Colicchio, the screenplay for Summer of Sam was presented to director Spike Lee with the awareness that he "had a developmental deal" (Pizzello 50). In an effort to "incorporate more of New York City" than the Bronx, Lee offered to rewrite the screenplay (50). Satisfied with his revisions, Lee elected to personally direct the film. Moreover, in an effort to maintain the film's integrity, Lee commissioned a director of photography (Ellen Kuras) who "comes from a documentary background" (50).

As the preponderance of Summer of Sam depicts fictional characters and situations, Lee could not afford a single historical inaccuracy in the film's flashes of true-life drama. The consummate professional, Lee not only directed these scenes with historical precision but sustains as objective a perspective as humanly possible . . . neither vilifying nor glorifying Berkowitz. Only through exhaustive research did Lee accomplish this task. In an interview conducted by Stephen Pizzello, Lee explains: "We did a ton of research. I tried to read everything I could about psychopaths and serial killers. I also wanted to see all the news reports and commercials that were airing during that period, and dig into the music scene as well. I was driving various researchers mad!" (50).

In addition to outside sources, Lee draws on his own remembrance of that sweltering New York City summer. He explains: "I was 20 years old in New York at the time, it was the summer of 1977, I remember the heat, the World Series, the disco . . ." (Baxter 2). Each of these elements are central to Lee's film.

Finally, Lee makes exquisite use of a real-life source. Jimmy Breslin, the Daily News journalist to whom David Berkowitz wrote his enigmatic letters, both introduces and concludes the film in true Breslin-style.

Works Cited:

Baxter, Billy. "The Spike Lee Interview." 14 June 2001.

Pizzello, Stephen. "Spike Lee's Seventies Flashback." American Cinematographer. June 1999: 50-52.