Alec Baldwin and Spike Lee’s silver screen chat during the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday came with a slight twist — instead of talking solely about their own movies, they took a journey into classic cinema’s past.
Lee, a tenured professor at NYU’s graduate film school and auteur director, brought out Baldwin’s inner film historian. The conversation at Spring Studios veered back and forth between wistful appreciation for the classics and teasing banter that made the pair seem like old friends.
“First, let me just explain what a pain in the ass it is to get this guy on the phone,” began Baldwin as Lee cackled.
Baldwin explained when he first reached out to Lee about participating, Lee agreed on the condition he wouldn’t talk only about his own work. Instead, each artist chose a favorite film to discuss.
Baldwin’s pick was “Place in the Sun,” the Oscar-winning romantic drama directed in 1951 by George Stevens, while Lee chose “On the Waterfront,” the Marlon Brando-helmed story of longshoreman’s crusade against a crooked union boss. When Baldwin asked Lee to explain his selection, he said it reminded him of recent politics.
“I was on Anderson Cooper when all the Colin Kaepernick stuff was happening, and the stuff that Marlon Brando was saying in the movie was the same as Kaepernick — ‘I want my rights,’” Lee said.
Baldwin split his time between rhapsodizing about the “cinematic confection” of the classics and drawing out comedic riffs. At one point, he told the story of the time he met Marlon Brando, puffing out his cheeks in an effortless impression. “You and I, we’re like two dogs sniffing each other. And, oh god, I hate that,” he recalled Brando mysteriously saying.
Eventually though, Lee’s focus on film classics did circle back to his own work. He mentioned that the iconic opening sequence to “Do the Right Thing” was inspired by the first film he ever saw, “Bye Bye Birdie.” He also described his upcoming film “BlacKkKlansman” which will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and star Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington.
Asked what Lee thinks of “Black Panther” by an audience member, the director began, “My brother…” and paused for dramatic effect. “I’ve seen it four times. I look at the word differently before and after ‘Black Panther,’” he said.
As Lee began to move on to the next question, Baldwin chimed in without missing a beat.
“I think in these modern times when we’re trying to be more sensitive and more inclusive, don’t you want to hear what I think about ‘Black Panther’?” The audience roared with laughter.