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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK


Spike's shocking summer

New York: Terrorised by Berkowitz over the summer of 1977

By BBC News Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Summer may be time for sun and relaxation but Spike Lee's latest movie could cause audiences a season-long cold sweat.

Tom Brook reports on the controversy surrounding Summer of Sam
The Summer of Sam focuses on New York in the summer of 1977 when the city was terrorised by serial killer David Berkowitz - better known as the Son of Sam.

[ image: Spike Lee: Frustrated by the fuss]
Spike Lee: Frustrated by the fuss
He murdered six people and wounded seven and that era of terror, paranoia and carnage has been brought to the big screen.

Never one to keep his head down, Spike Lee has nonetheless been frustrated by the amount of controversy his new venture has caused.

He has lashed out that those who accuse it of glorifing the serial murderer.

Mad summer

As far as he is concerned, his film is not about Berkowitz's victims but the madness of a dramatic summer.

"I never set out to make a film about a serial killer or glamorizing a serial killer," Lee says in an interview with USA Today. "I was attempting to capture the madness on film. This film is about that particular insane summer."

[ image: Punk rock clashed witth disco]
Punk rock clashed witth disco
He continues: "You can't deny that David Berkowitz was part of it and contributed to the hysteria, but it's not about him, it's about the effect his crimes had on people."

The tension in question was incited by the clash of disco culture with punk rock. New York was also suffocating under a heatwave, and tormented by an electrical blackout.

But most of all, Son of Sam fuelled fear and an international media frenzy.

Lee says that the story was just waiting to be told to today's audience.

"This is something that happened we feel it is accurate, it is a great story that captivated not only New York City in the United States but the whole world."

Family distress

Lee has also provoked the anger of the families of Son of Sam's victims. They say he has created an entertainment that just capitalises on their grief.

June Ginty, from the organisation Parents of Murdered Children says:

"I would like to say to Spike Lee: 'Have you ever been through anything like this? How dare you destroy or put any more stress on a family that has been through what these families have been through - murder is not entertainment."

At the Summer of Sam premiere, Lee seemed to tire of defending his picture. The task therefore fell to the movie's stars, such as Mira Sorvino.

[ image: Mira Sorvino:
Mira Sorvino: "No thriller feeling to the violence"
"It's an anti-violence film that doesn't capitalise in a sexy way on the violence in it. It doesn't take you into the suspense of it.

"There's no sort of thriller feeling to the violence. It's just horrible and then it moves on and talks about the effects of it," she says.

New York journalist Jimmy Breslin plays himself in the film. He received taunting messages from Son of Sam during his killing spree. Breslin now thinks the families' anger is misplaced.

"I feel for them but the picture didn't put the wounds in the people, Berkowitz did. This is the history of the city of New York," he says.

Summer of Sam has all the hallmarks of a Spike Lee film in that its provoked anger and debate. And, as with previous pictures, such as Malcolm X and She Gotta Have It, made by the director, the controversy is most definitely helping to sell the film.

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