The Shot Behind the Shot – Spike Lee’s patented “double dolly” from Malcolm X (1992)
Few directors boast an instantly recognizable signature shot, but Spike Lee and his “double dolly” are among that select company. The technique involves placing both the actor and the camera on dollies – allowing them to glide along the dolly track in unison. My favorite of these shots comes courtesy of cinematographer Ernest Dickerson in Malcom X (1992), as Denzel Washington (in the titular role) is propelled toward the fateful rally where Malcolm was assassinated in February of 1965. The scene is accompanied by Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. The Civil Rights anthem was released as the B-side of the single Shake only 11 days after Cooke himself was shot and killed under suspicious circumstances in December of 1964.
“I’d cut the sequence without (the Sam Cooke song) and then Spike brought the song in and we added the music and everything fell so gorgeously and emotionally together (that I didn’t adjust the edit). It floored us and spooked us. If you look at it, you’d definitely think I cut that sequence to that song, but I didn’t.” – Barry Alexander Brown, from a 2019 interview in Filmmaker Magazine
A montage of Lee’s double dolly shots…