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1 item from 1997

Film review: '4 Little Girls'

11 July 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Spike Lee's first feature-length documentary is an uncharacteristically restrained effort by this major filmmaker, lacking the intense style and outlandishness of much of his earlier work. But it tells a powerful story simply and movingly and thus serves as an important cinematic document of one of the most heinous crimes of the civil rights era: the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that resulted in the deaths of four young children. To be shown on HBO early next year, "4 Little Girls" is receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.

Lee uses a fairly conventional combination of talking heads and archival footage to tell the story and eschews the flashy camerawork and editing that mark his fiction films. He quite rightly concentrates on the victims and does a powerful and effective job of making us feel the loss of these four innocent lives. There is a great deal of testimony from the little girls' families and childhood friends, as well as many photographs that vividly remind us of exactly who they were. The director also doesn't hesitate to shock us by using autopsy photos of the girls' bodies, which many viewers will find difficult to take.

Alongside the archival footage that graphically illustrates the violent clashes of the period, there are informative interviews with public figures of the time, including civil rights leaders (Andrew Young, the Rev. Jesse Jackson), politicians (former Birmingham Mayor David Vann, former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley) and journalists (Howell Raines of the New York Times, Taylor Branch). In a clear bid to up the celebrity quotient, Lee also includes less-than-compelling testimony from the likes of Walter Cronkite and Bill Cosby.

The most compelling interview, however, is with George Wallace; the obviously mentally and physically debilitated former governor of Alabama, barely coherent and not easily understood (subtitles are used), attempts to demonstrate his lack of prejudice by making constant, patronizing references to his black personal aide, repeatedly referred to as his "best friend."

As usual, the director has provided the film with highly evocative musical accompaniment, beginning with Joan Baez's rendition of the elegiac "Birmingham Sunday" and including both period songs and a haunting original jazz score by Terence Blanchard.



and 40 Acres and a Mule

Director-producer Spike Lee

Producer-editor Sam Pollard

Director of photography Ellen Kuras

Music composer Terence Blanchard

Associate producer Michele Forman


Running time -- 102 minutes

No MPAA rating


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