4 Little Girls [VHS]

4 Little Girls [VHS]

There are many remarkable things about the documentary 4 Little Girls. Spike Lee’s striking, beautifully realized film is a cinematic lesson of what kind of material is better suited to the documentary format. In his first documentary, Lee shares an attribute of Ken Burns: the major event in his documentary is not seen on camera. Except for four quick glimpses of black-and-white autopsy photos, the picture stays clear from the bombing. Lee remains with the faces, the girls’ friends, families, and the historic figures of the era. They’ve all grown up since the bombing but their memories haven’t faded. The vital facts of the case are certainly here: the troubled history of Birmingham, the court proceedings, friends’ last run-ins with the girls. What touches us deeper though are those witnesses telling us of living through the core era of segregation and bigotry: a father explaining to his child why she can’t have a sandwich in a cafeteria and a woman offering up tears of past events. There’s even an interview with George Wallace, the prince of segregation, that belongs in a David Lynch feature. Lee’s film asserts the bombing energized the civil rights movement and when the voice of America, Walter Cronkite, echoes those sentiments, you believe he may have it right. –Doug Thomas

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