There are some SPOILERS ahead for the ending of BlacKKKlansman. So please don’t read ahead unless you have seen Spike Lee’s latest release.
Spike Lee’s dolly pull shots have long been a part of movie history.
Numerous online essays and videos have been written and made on the director’s usage, which has popped up in the likes of “Mo’ Better Blues,” “School Daze,” “Girl 6,” “The 25th Hour,” “Inside Man” and “Malcolm X,” to name but a few.
Lee’s latest film “BlacKKKlansman” once again sees the director incorporate the rare cinematic device, which sees the camera look up at the actor or actors, who are stood on the moving dolly. This means their characters are basically floating in mid-air, and the ceiling or sky above them moves while they remain motionless.
In the past, Lee has used it to show his characters drunk, shocked, or furious. But, right at the end of “BlacKKKlansman,” it is used as the gun-wielding pair of John David Washington’s Detective Ron Stallworth and Laura Harrier’s Patrice Dumas go outside their apartment and see Ku Klux Klan members burning a large cross. Then the film transports forward to harrowing footage from the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville.
It is a powerful and thought-provoking sequence.
But, for John David Washington, being used in the dolly pull was also very sentimental, as it meant he followed in the footsteps of his father Denzel Washington, who Lee used for a similar shot in 1992’s “Malcolm X”.
During my recent conversation with the actor, Washington made it very clear that he felt a strong connection to both his father and movie history when it was time to shoot “BlacKKKlansman’s” dolly pull.
In fact, Washington even went a little hysterical with excitement when it was wheeled out.
“Honestly, this might be crazy to say, but my favorite day and my most fulfilling day was my last day on the famous dolly pull.”
“Spike actually had to calm me down. He was like, ‘Oh right! John David, stop. Just chill out. Focus.’ Because I was like a little kid. It is the famous dolly shot!”
“It is like, ‘Yo! I have been watching this since I was 6-years-old. Are you kidding me? I am on the dolly right now. Spike! Spike! Look at me.’ I even think I went an octave higher. ‘Are we doing it now? Are we doing it now?’”
“Because I was asking him to do it the whole film. But he kept laughing me off. I was like, ‘I’m serious. I’m serious.’ But he decided to put it where he put it. And I thought that was great.”
“Truly, to answer your question directly, that was really one of the most fulfilling days on set. Because now I am a part of history.”
“You know how many famous people I grew up watching have been on that dolly? I was like, ‘Is this the same dolly you used in 92?’ I was all over the place that day.”
“BlacKKKlansman” is now in cinemas.