When Roger Ebert wrote that Spike Lee’s 1999 remake of Diner “turned into an imaginative and highly watchable hybrid of crackpot doo-wop, paranoia, mythic warfare, and the Abbie Hoffman aesthetic,” he paid a huge compliment. And if Spike Lee was intentionally reminding us that he was an outsider—young, black, and angry—his work deserves that same.
On Friday at 6:30pm, we will finally get to see Lee’s Diner—for real—when it premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival. (It’s the first of several Lee films slated for TIFF.) And if what I saw at the Odeon last night is any indication, Ebert may have been wrong.
Lee and David Byrne, whom I interviewed before the screening, assembled a troupe of musicians—including resident musicians drummer Ken Duke and guitarist Nigel Hall, who were joined by punk rockers Yoko Ono, Billy Idol, Jack Elliott, and the new group Rüfüs Du Sol—for the film. (The lineup represents that once upon a time when Lee actually made an accessible, likable film; people would go out to see it.)
Lee is no David Byrne, at least not as a filmmaker. When we talked, we touched on how Jack Elliott—the old-time rocker who often played with Rüfüs Du Sol—became Lee’s backup band, but it sounds like Lee never really took the time to listen to Byrne’s music. “I thought Jack Elliott was a genius,” Lee said. “I didn’t listen to David’s music and why.” Byrne, for his part, said he was jazzed by the chance to collaborate with Lee. (Byrne, of course, was first recruited to help out Ebert, and to give Diner its street cred.)
“We wanted to use the full strength of Diner—not just the heroin scene and the fairgrounds scenes,” Lee told me. “There’s so much more.”
“And that didn’t come until the very end,” Byrne said.
Lee compared Byrne’s composition to the way David Byrne has experimented with tape loops. I asked Lee why he thought that inspired him. Lee’s take: I can have my fairground, and then maybe one day I’ll have my fairway.
The music, I’m told, won’t be available when the film opens next week, but it can be streamed on-demand as a bonus feature from October 24 to November 5. Lee expects to put out a special vinyl album sometime after that.
I suspect it will. The fun begins to me.