Barry Alexander Brown Interview: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ editor
When Spike Lee sent his longtime editor, Barry Alexander Brown, the script for “BlacKkKlansman” he was immediately “excited, and could see how this could be something pretty interesting.” That may be a bit of an understatement since the film recounts the improbable true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s. Watch our exclusive video interview with Brown above.
If it weren’t true, the premise would seem absurd, so the film walks a delicate line between humor and tragedy. “Both Spike and I like to use comedy,” Brown explains. “It certainly is part of entertainment, but it also brings in a level of reality, quite frankly. If everything is just flat and dramatic, then there isn’t ups and downs.” In that way, the humor allowed them “to make some very serious points, and sometimes to get into a character.”
Still, it’s a delicate balancing act. “Towards the end of the movie there was some pretty funny stuff,” he says, “and we just finally felt like, man, this is really beginning to be confusing, and it’s also beginning to kill the impact … At some point towards the end we’ve got to leave the comedy behind,” so they had to make some difficult decisions and leave material on the cutting room floor to maintain the right tone.
Brown has also worked as a director, and in that capacity he earned an Oscar nomination for his first film, the documentary “The War at Home” (1979). He turned to editing after working on a scene for Lee‘s first feature, “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), which led to a long partnership that has spanned “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “Malcolm X” (1992), “25th Hour” (2002), “Inside Man” (2006) and several other titles.
Because “we’ve done so much together, there is a shorthand that we have,” Brown says about his working relationship with Lee. That helped them turn the film around quickly when it counted: when Lee saw the first cut in early January he knew it would be ready in time for the Cannes Film Festival, whose deadline for submissions was in March. “The way we could do that is only because there’s so much history there between us, and we can work fast.”