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Monday, November 23, 2009

"Kobe Doin' Work" DVD Extras Provide Compelling Portrait of a Basketball Artist

The DVD version of Spike Lee's documentary "Kobe Doin' Work" will be available in stores on November 24 but I can provide a sneak preview because I received a review copy recently. Lee focused more than 30 cameras on Kobe Bryant before, during and after the L.A. Lakers' 106-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on April 13, 2008, literally obtaining a panoramic perspective of the 2008 NBA MVP in action. I wrote a review of "Kobe Doin' Work" when the program originally aired on ESPN, so this post will focus on the DVD's special features.

The DVD includes various audio tracks, including "censored" and "uncensored" versions of the main program (the "uncensored" track contains profanity) and has subtitles in English, French and Spanish (the subtitles are not available on some of the special features). Most of the special features are excellent, though it would have been nice if some of them were lengthier, particularly the segment in which Lee talks about collaborating with Bryant; Lee explains how he and Bryant got together so that Bryant could record an audio commentary to accompany Lee's footage of the game: Bryant's tight schedule forced him to cancel his first appointment with Lee, so their last chance to meet was when the Lakers made their only trip of the season to New York to face the Knicks during the 2009 Super Bowl weekend. Bryant set up a meeting with Lee for right after the Lakers-Knicks game. Bryant dropped a Madison Square Garden record 61 points on the Knicks in a 126-117 Lakers win and then in the postgame press conference Bryant jokingly blamed this outburst on Lee, noting that he made sure that the Knick-loving Lee would have nothing to talk trash about during their upcoming session. In the DVD special feature, Lee declares, "As a Knicks fan, I've been going to games since I was 10 years old and we appreciate great players but I have never, ever, ever heard New York Knick fans chant 'MVP' (for an opposing player). And, to be honest, that was blasphemous" (Lee laughs after that last statement). Listening to Bryant comment not only about the Spurs game but also about his just completed MSG masterpiece was an eye opening experience for Lee, who says of Bryant, "His basketball IQ is (like) Albert Einstein."

The DVD special feature "The Unseen Fourth Quarter" includes footage from the final stanza of the Lakers-Spurs game that was not included in the documentary broadcast. The reason that the footage is "unseen" is that Bryant carried the Lakers to a 12 point lead by the end of the third quarter and--for once--the Lakers' reserves did not squander that advantage, thus enabling Bryant to spend the game's final 12 minutes watching from the bench. Bryant provided tips to young players Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar and encouraged veterans Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom.

The DVD includes about three minutes of footage from the press conference after the Laker-Spurs game, with the main highlight being Bryant's statement that the Lakers had found their "defensive identity" in recent weeks and had become "very aggressive" at that end of the court. They maintained that "defensive identity" well enough to advance to the 2008 NBA Finals, where they ran into a superior defensive team from Boston that eliminated the Lakers in six games--but the Lakers learned their lessons well from that setback, playing better and tougher at that end of the court in 2009, culminating in a five game Finals triumph over the Orlando Magic.

A 4:25 photo montage consisting mainly of striking black and white images is so expertly edited and cut that at times the still pictures morph into each other so seamlessly that they look like clips from a movie trailer. Elite basketball players are extraordinarily athletic and expressive and Lee does an outstanding job of creating a beautiful, poetic depiction of the NBA game.

The "Levitate" music video by Bruce Hornsby includes images from the photo montage blended with full color, live action shots. Hornsby's opening lyrics capture Bryant's essence: "Well, what have we here?/What do I see?/I think someone's coming out to challenge me./I love it, I say 'Bring it.'" Later, Hornsby sings, "I'm searching for a state of ecstasy/The armchair cynical experts I just let them be," words that simultaneously describe Bryant's love of the game while also dismissing the ignorant ramblings of fools like John Krolik, Henry Abbott and Bill Simmons, people whose biases--Cavs fan, Blazers fan and Celtics fan respectively--and lack of understanding of the nuances of basketball prevent them from appreciating Bryant's finely honed skill set. Lee's footage vividly captures the on-court action that I have verbally described so often; one sequence shows Bryant drawing a double team and then slickly dishing to Lamar Odom for an easy dunk, while in another clip Bryant powers to the hoop, forces Tim Duncan to provide defensive help and then slides a layup attempt between Duncan's outstretched arms. The ball rolls off of the rim, but Pau Gasol is there for an uncontested putback. Bryant makes the game very easy for his center and power forward--they get free runs to the hoop because the opposing defense has to focus on trying to contain Bryant. As Hornsby croons, "Time for the master of time and space/Time for the shake and bake."

The DVD includes the brief "E:60" segment about the making of "Kobe Doin' Work." Lee exhorts the cameramen, "Body parts--his legs are beautiful, his arms, shoulders: get these nice pieces, please."

After watching "Kobe Doin' Work" and the accompanying special features, any intelligent viewer realizes that just like a great movie director controls every image and every piece of audio, Bryant is an impresario who has a hand--and voice--in almost everything that the Lakers do at both ends of the court.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:15 PM

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