The Shot Behind the Shot – Spike Lee’s patented “double dolly” from Malcolm X (1992)

Malcom X Spike Lee double dolly shot

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…


Further reading…
Spike Lee breaks down his signature visual flourishes for the NY Times
The unlikely story of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come from The New Yorker

More from the Shot Behind the Shot series

Deep Fried Interview: Da Sweet Blood of Jesus cinematographer Daniel Patterson

When Da Sweet Blood of Jesus hits limited theatrical release and VOD this Friday, the narrative surrounding the film will largely focus on director Spike Lee as the most prominent filmmaker yet to make use of crowdsourcing to fund a project. The movie – a remake of Bill Gunn’s 1973 film Ganja & Hess – raised $1.4 million on Kickstarter, including sizable donations by Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh.

But further down in the credits, below the line where you find the name of cinematographer Daniel Patterson, lies an equally compelling narrative. The story of a kid who grew up in the boroughs of New York just like Lee, followed the director’s path to success step-by-step and now finds himself working alongside the very man who inspired him to pursue filmmaking.

Patterson talked to Deep Fried Movies about the journey that led him behind the camera on the latest Spike Lee Joint. Continue Reading ›

Behind the Scenes: Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do the Right Thing #4 (discreet)

We’re nowhere near the hottest day of the summer yet, but it’s never too early for a behind the scenes pic from Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. This shot shows the set-up for the shoe-scuffing scene featuring the great character actors John Savage (in the Larry Bird t-shirt) and Giancarlo Esposito (immediately to the left of Savage’s bike). Continue Reading ›