97 Do the Right Thing

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#126 Post by Sloper » Mon Apr 04, 2016 6:10 pm

There's also some really interesting discussion on the existing thread, especially from here onwards.

What I like most about this film is how tough it makes things for the viewer. The title sounds dogmatic at first, but of course it’s also brilliantly vague. Throughout the film, we’re confronted with situations where we almost can’t help making judgements about right and wrong, but where right and wrong are also mingled inextricably.

The confrontation between Buggin’ Out and Clifton is a great example (by the way, this feels like a scene Michael Haneke would enjoy). Clifton is an inconsiderate prick, and the way he rides over Buggin’ Out’s sneaker betrays his sense of superiority, his casual disdain for someone he sees as a social inferior; but a split second before Clifton barges past, we’ve just seen Buggin’ Out rejecting Vito’s earnest attempt to be friendly, and this suggests some kind of symmetry (or at least connection) between the one form of contempt and the other. The film prompts us to make fun of Buggin’ Out’s pretensions and his concern over his appearance (see also Robin Harris’ mockery of his hair), but also to share his indignation at the defacement of his property by the even more pretentious brownstone-owning Clifton – but also to share Clifton’s obvious terror when he finds himself confronted by a very angry crowd over what was essentially an accident – but also to share that crowd’s anger at the rich white guy talking down to them from the steps of his brownstone, foreshadowing the gradual gentrification of the neighbourhood (during one take shown in the making-of documentary, John Savage’s line is ‘I own a building here’; changing it to ‘I own a brownstone’ adds that extra layer of obnoxiousness) – but also to feel that some members of the angry crowd are spoiling for a fight rather than acting on righteous indignation...and so on.

Lee could easily have made Clifton more of a dick-head in this scene, and had him offending a more sympathetic character than Buggin’ Out, but by making us feel conflicting things about each side of the argument the film makes it harder for us to figure out our moral stance, and gives us something to argue about. It’s not easy to see what ‘the right thing’ to do is here, especially from Buggin’ Out’s perspective: maybe he’s mis-directing his anger, or at least directing an excessive amount of anger at this particular issue, but under these circumstances, provoked like this, it’s easy to feel that you would do the same thing, and that Clifton has it coming.

This ambiguity is set up right from the start in the title sequence. The film is called ‘Do the Right Thing’; we hear Public Enemy telling us to ‘fight the power / fight the powers that be’; but what we see is not Radio Raheem or Buggin’ Out, but Tina, who during the film shows no interest in battling the Establishment, or racism, but who fights to get Mookie to take his responsibilities more seriously.

This gives us a really complex way into what the film is saying about racism, because Mookie’s negligence towards his family is (I think) paralleled with his state of lethargic denial in relation to Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. When Buggin’ Out complains to Mookie about the Wall of Fame, Mookie just says to ‘ask Sal’; then Mookie takes Buggin’ into the street and berates him for embarrassing him at work. It’s more important to him to make money than to come to terms with the serious issue Buggin’ has called attention to, just as, at the other end of the spectrum, it’s more important to Buggin’ to vent his anger about this issue than to work constructively to do something about it.

To go back to the title sequence, we can see that it represents some kind of call to arms, and that it insists on this image of Rosie Perez’s combative dance moves as an embodiment of ‘fighting the power’ and ‘doing the right thing’, but when we think through this sequence’s relationship to the issues in the film we can also see that the confrontation being prompted here may not take the form of literal violence – but also that it might take that form in some contexts, because when Mookie hurls the trash can through the window at the end, this is very explicitly figured as a moment when he breaks out of his lethargy and proactively fights the institution that binds and limits him (and which gives him those wages Tina urges him to look beyond). But then again, that action is morally ambiguous. When Mookie goes from standing beside Sal to joining the crowd that’s facing him, he seems driven as much by social pressure as by a sense of principle; before he goes for the trash-can we see him running his hands over his face wearily, again as if he feels obliged and pressured into doing this thing, rather than morally committed to it; as he runs up to the window, he shouts ‘Hate!’, an ethically dubious rallying cry that I’ll come back to in a minute; during the riot, Mookie sits on the curb with his sister, looking impassive; and the next morning, much to Tina’s disgust, the first thing he thinks of his money. So why did he throw that trash-can: what was he confronting, and what was he trying to accomplish?

Spike Lee himself tends to play down the ambiguity of his own film in some of the stuff he says about it. (He’s largely responsible for that ambiguity in the first place, of course, but a lot of artists seem to become reductive about their own work after completing it.) For instance, he says that only white people ask why Mookie throws the trash-can, while black audiences ‘instinctively understand’ that Mookie does this because after Radio Raheem’s death Sal’s Pizzeria comes to represent everything that’s oppressing him. As it burns, there are several close-ups of the Wall of Fame disintegrating in the fire; but confusingly, Lee also says that he’s on Sal’s side in the earlier argument between him and Buggin’ Out over the Wall of Fame. Maybe, as Lee says, there’s some weight to Sal’s claim that he can put whoever he wants on his wall, and that black people should run their own businesses and then put their heroes on display; this connects with Lee’s frustration at Mookie’s lack of ambition. But it seems to me there’s a lot more weight to Buggin’ Out’s argument (even if, as Jade says, his anger is ultimately destructive rather than constructive...god this is complicated), that Sal’s paternalistic attitude to the neighbourhood whose inhabitants have ‘grown up on his food’ (notice how he infantilises them) is as profoundly problematic as it is superficially benign, and that his Wall of Fame is a symptom of this problem.

It’s very significant that when he allows the customers in late – because they love his food – he also lets in Buggin’ Out, Radio Raheem and Smiley for the climactic confrontation. Sal keeps the street clean, Sal controls the Wall of Fame, Sal and his sons (and heirs) control the neighbourhood’s food supply (there’s a complex link with the Korean grocery store across from Sal’s here), Sal keeps Mookie just-about-earning-a-living, etc., and all of this adds up to the problem Buggin’, Raheem and Smiley have come to confront him about.

His belligerence about the Wall of Fame at the start is directly linked to his belligerence about Radio Raheem’s music at the end: ultimately, while he’s happy to have his black neighbours depending on him like children, he doesn’t want any black people on his wall. We don’t see Radio Raheem anywhere but on the streets, and subliminally the film makes us feel that his radio – and the song it plays incessantly – are his only possessions, so when Sal destroys this piece of property, in the name of his own property (the pizzeria where there is to be ‘no rap, no music’), we need to link this to the subsequent retaliatory destruction of the pizzeria. Earlier in the film, Sal said ‘I’m gonna kill somebody today’; at the end he says to Radio Raheem, ‘I killed your radio’; Radio Raheem tries to kill him in retaliation (as if it is Raheem himself who has been killed); and then the police kill Raheem in the name of preserving Sal’s life. So to re-cap: Sal kills the radio for his pizzeria; Raheem tries to kill Sal for his radio; the police kill Raheem for Sal; Mookie and the rest of the crowd kill the pizzeria for Raheem.

My point is that you can’t simply endorse either Sal’s defence of the Wall of Fame or Mookie’s smashing of the window as morally straightforward acts without ignoring the labyrinthine complexities the film presents you with. It’s easy to understand why each person behaves the way they do, and by the same token it’s often hard to say whether they’re doing the right thing or not. Even something as unambiguously right as the Mayor’s saving of the child’s life leads to an ambiguous aftermath, when the child lies about what happened, the Mayor tries to cover up for him, the mother starts beating the child, the Mayor rebukes her for this, the mother insists that no one can tell her how to raise her child, and the Mayor resignedly replies, ‘You’re right’ – and we find ourselves thinking, ‘Is she?’

I don’t like the conversation between Mookie and Pino about the latter’s ‘not really black’ heroes. It feels more obvious and ‘on the nose’ than the rest of the film, engineered to make a specific point. The point itself is a good one, but it’s out of character for Mookie to confront someone about their racist views – this conversation would have made more sense, and been invested with more dramatic tension, between Pino and Buggin’ Out – and it’s also out of character for Pino to be this civil and attentive towards Mookie. That said, there is something touching about this rare moment when two people on opposite sides of a conflict have a relatively civil conversation, at least for a minute or so.

That brings me to the other thing I don’t like about this film: Bill Lee’s score. It’s not bad music as such, but if ever a film should have relied entirely on diegetic sound, this is it. Sometimes, when there’s just a lone saxophone on the soundtrack, it almost does sound like source music, but mostly it tends to dilute the immersive effect that is otherwise so brilliantly achieved by the film’s use of sound. Throughout the film, we both see and hear the various tensions and conflicts ebbing and flowing, and this culminates in the terrifying ‘Tower of Babel’ effect at the climax, when the soundtrack becomes a mass of offended and offensive yelling. The effectiveness of the soundtrack is integral to the point the film is making. For all that its treatment of racism and conflict is complex and ambiguous, and for all that it is often deliberately confusing, the film also achieves a certain clarity in the way it figures listening and love as being crucial parts of ‘doing the right thing’. And it does so without being as wet and corny as that last sentence sounds...

After the title sequence, the film proper starts with Señor Love Daddy broadcasting from the ‘WE LOVE’ radio station; it ends with him dedicating a record to Radio Raheem and saying ‘we love you’; and the song he then plays over the end credits is ‘Never Explain Love’ by Al Jarreau. I don’t much like the song, but it’s thematically apt in its message that love cannot be rationalised, but is something instinctive and organic. Note that the Mayor, the one who tells Mookie to ‘always do the right thing’, saves the boy from being run over because he doesn’t think about it first – as he admits to Mother Sister, if he’d thought about it he probably wouldn’t have done it. But it’s also a song about the need to shut up and be receptive to other people: earlier in the film, it’s Señor Love Daddy who intervenes to bring a stop to the series of into-the-camera racist monologues. As the Martin Luther King quotation at the end says, violence ‘leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue’, and the sequence just referred to is a great illustration of this. The DJ tells everyone to ‘cool it’, and elsewhere advises them to wear black in order to absorb and preserve the heat for colder days. The heat accentuates the violence because it makes people less ‘absorbent’ so to speak, more monologic, less inclined to listen. Señor Love Daddy’s role is implicitly to urge everyone in the neighbourhood to listen, and by the same token to love.

It’s interesting, then, that Radio Raheem occupies a similar role, prowling the neighbourhood demanding that people listen to ‘Fight the Power’ or, in one instance, to his Night of the Hunter Love/Hate monologue. In contrast to Señor Love Daddy, he seems to embody the Malcolm X quotation from the end credits, using his stereo to call attention to the corruption of the powerful, and implying that violence might be necessary when dialogue fails in his ominous silence after saying ‘but if I hate you...’ to Mookie. The mutual respect and love between Raheem and Señor Love Daddy indicates that their two viewpoints don’t cancel each other out. By the way, I have a hard time figuring out the point of Raheem’s confrontational attitude in the Koreans’ grocery store. I understand that Lee wants to say something about a specific kind of cultural tension here, but why bring Radio Raheem into it when the point is already made elsewhere? What is this supposed to add to our understanding of Raheem’s role in the film? Maybe someone else can suggest an interpretation.
matrixschmatrix wrote:I think, whenever I watch this movie, of the ending and the explosive confrontations- it's easy to remember it as a violent movie about conflict, between Raheem and Sal, Raheem and the cops, Mookie and Sal, Buggin' Out and everybody, Pino and Mookie, Raheem and the Korean store owner- but those explosive moments of confrontation stick out precisely because this is in many ways one of the warmest films ever made, a truly loving portrait of a community of well realized people who seem as though they've been lovingly going through the same cycle of conflicts for decades. There's tension, certainly, heightened by poverty and heat and Sal's inadvertantly nigh-colonialist attitude towards the neighborhood (while also being a legitimately sweet and friendly guy) and Pino's outright racism and Buggin' Out's hunger for a fight- but really, for most of the movie, it folds in, and one never feels like this community is inherently doomed to fall apart. That Da Mayor has maintained his position as a sweetly useless old man for time immemorial speaks to a place where horizons beyond mere survival are available even to the characters who have, effectively, no means whatsoever.

So the ending, of course, sneaks up on you every time, and feels like an elbow to the kidney, every time. The movie doesn't have to cheat by making Raheem a cherubic little child- he's kind of annoying, really, but he's a person, a character in the town, and when the cop kills him it's as shocking an act of murder as any I can think of on screen. Spike Lee has complained, on the commentary and elsewhere, that everyone focuses on Mookie's act of property destruction and skims over the murder- and while I think the reason for this is at least in part because the whole structure of the movie points towards Mookie's dilemma, the radicalization of a previously inert character, and the implicit question about it posed by the title and by Da Mayor- he is absolutely right that, in looking at reviews of the time, they seem to ignore both the richness of the movie and the complexity of the moral question Mookie is answering in throwing the trash can. Lee is being slightly disingenuous when he ridicules the idea that this movie could incite violence- what the establishment critics feared (and absolutely expressed their fear of in terms of childish racism) was randomized violence, but what the movie encourages is ultimately something more like revolutionary violence, the violence of self defense at the brink of being destroyed.
You’re right about the dramatic structure, and I think there’s another reason (connected to this one) why the destruction of the pizzeria might, in the short term, come across as more upsetting than the death of Raheem. It’s not because of the loss incurred by Sal, or because the burning of property is worse than the death of a person (although no doubt Lee is right that some viewers have seen it in those terms), but because for a moment this feels like the destruction of a community we’ve come to love and feel invested in. The Mayor tries to tell the crowd that Sal was not responsible for Raheem’s death, which was technically true, and there’s a moment here when it feels like everything could have gone differently: the police could have been held responsible and relations between Sal and the rest of the neighbourhood could have been repaired. Part of us needs to want that to happen for this ending to work...

What’s really sad, though, is that the Mayor is only technically right about Sal. After all, what does Sal mean when he says ‘You do what you gotta do’? And the next day he certainly seems more upset by the loss of the pizzeria he built than by the death of Raheem. We've been made to like Sal, at least to some extent, so his behaviour at the end is to say the least disappointing. The riot, then, is upsetting because it spells out that Raheem’s death was not just a tragic, inadvertent accident: it was the logical and virtually inevitable outcome of and response to the attitude Sal embodied. There are other things in the film that temper the bleakness of this point, the coda being one of them, but Lee is definitely saying something more pessimistic than ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ (Rodney King actually said ‘Can we all get along? Can we get along?’, and maybe he was thinking of Señor Love Daddy’s open questions, ‘Can we live together? Together, can we live?’)

The destruction of the pizzeria is all the more upsetting because we can see that it is a justifiable reaction to what has happened, an expression of the ‘intelligence’ Malcolm X talks about rather than just mindless violence. It’s telling that Smiley, who carries around photos of ‘Martin and Malcolm’ embracing, is the one who lights the fire. What 'Martin' says about violence is right...but sometimes there's nothing left to do but smash the windows and burn the place to the ground. Once you realise that, you can see that this wasn't the destruction of a community at all. The film gets us to buy into the idea that the pizzeria is the heart and soul of this neighbourhood, but this is a misconception: it’s actually a kind of tumour, benign on the surface but malignant underneath. In fact there is a redemptive sense of communal solidarity in the climactic riot - cemented by the reconciliation between Paul Benjamin and the Korean store-owner - and ultimately I think the film wants us to feel that this was a directed, necessary act of violence on the part of the crowd, against a single corrupt institution. But coming to terms with what Sal really stands for, and with his responsibility for the death of Radio Raheem, is a painful process. At least that’s how it all seemed to me on the latest viewing.

One other random thought:

When I heard Ernest Dickerson say on the commentary that he was influenced by Jack Cardiff, I suddenly realised what that beautiful golden glow in so many shots reminded me of: Black Narcissus, which is also about a culture clash, and where the effect also suggests a heightened, intangible tension. And the boldness of that red wall, of course, which adds so much to our sense of the oppressive heat – in conjunction with the three superb performers sitting in front of it.

User avatar
ando
Bringing Out El Duende
Joined: Mon Dec 06, 2004 6:53 pm
Location: New York City

Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#127 Post by ando » Mon Apr 04, 2016 6:37 pm

Great response, Sloper, but I'm going to respond to just one question that you pose and one that I started to address in my previous post:
Sloper wrote:So why did he throw that trash-can: what was he confronting, and what was he trying to accomplish?
Mookie's tossing of the trash can throug Sal's Pizzaria is an act of frustration, not anything like the kind of considered response that leaders like Malcolm X (certainly King) called for. It's an allegory, really - an historic one - of the kind of self destruction that was happening in the black sections of major cities in the late 60s (and later). Black people were burning down their own communities in response to obvious injustice. But even if Mookie had followed Malcolm X's directive to take "an eye for an eye" he'd have thrown the trash can through the police precinct window (which would have necessitated other means as NYC police precincts don't have windows. Do any?) not Sal's restaurant. But that would hardly have been the right thing to do with presumably an unarmed community supporting Mookie vs. the police. This is why The Black Panther Party, for instance, mounted a more threatening challenge to authorities. But there's no mention of them or The Nation of Islam (which, apparently, gave considerable assistance to Lee) in the film, and quite rightly. Lee, with this feature anyway (as he alludes to in the doc), was interested in making a good movie, not a kind of moving picture polemic.

It's why I disagree with the point of matrix's comparison to Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers (though I do concur that Lee was being a bit disingenuous in regard to his political provocation, in general), which was not only meant to be simply provocative but to document a particular kind of revolutionary response. To me DTRT is not a document of that kind but a story about a particular - as matrix does point out - human community. As such the narrative is constructed of the stuff of great art, not merely polemic devices. That's not to say that Pontecorvo's film isn't a staggering acheivement. It is. But its focus is specifically or pointedly political. But I think that the reach and appeal of Do The Right Thing is wider than that. I've always seen Algiers as a war film; not as a category, necessarily, but as a film which certainly fullfills expectations of the war chronicle (Could the BBC's excellent The World at War (1973) have been as effective without the influence Pontecorvo's dramatic techniques in relaying a battle narrative?). One can't accuse Lee with being concerned with this approach (in fact, the burning restaurant sequence is probably the least fluid in the film).

User avatar
ando
Bringing Out El Duende
Joined: Mon Dec 06, 2004 6:53 pm
Location: New York City

Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#128 Post by ando » Sun Apr 10, 2016 3:29 am

Sloper wrote: That brings me to the other thing I don’t like about this film: Bill Lee’s score. It’s not bad music as such, but if ever a film should have relied entirely on diegetic sound, this is it. Sometimes, when there’s just a lone saxophone on the soundtrack, it almost does sound like source music, but mostly it tends to dilute the immersive effect that is otherwise so brilliantly achieved by the film’s use of sound. Throughout the film, we both see and hear the various tensions and conflicts ebbing and flowing, and this culminates in the terrifying ‘Tower of Babel’ effect at the climax, when the soundtrack becomes a mass of offended and offensive yelling. The effectiveness of the soundtrack is integral to the point the film is making. For all that its treatment of racism and conflict is complex and ambiguous, and for all that it is often deliberately confusing, the film also achieves a certain clarity in the way it figures listening and love as being crucial parts of ‘doing the right thing’. And it does so without being as wet and corny as that last sentence sounds...
I couldn't disagree more with your point about Bill Lee's score or any featured music - and there's a lot of it - in DTRT. The line between the diagetic and source music is a fine one and far more porous than I remembered it. The use of music in this film, in general, is a great example of it as a narrative device, not mere ornamentation or simple accompinament. Spike Lee lets us know from the outset with the opening sequence that the film will involve music as an integral part of the experience. Then he re-enforces this with the introduction of Love Daddy and his radio studio which acts as a kind of chorus; commenting, augmenting and concluding pivotal passages in the film. Where does the records that Daddy Love spins stop and Bill Lee's score begin? None of the music, in any case, overpowers the dialogue or detracts from the dynamic established between actors/characters. Take, for instance, that scene you referenced between Pino and Mookie when they're talking about famous black entertainers: Bill Lee's score kicks in right after Mookie asks Pino to step aside. Their conversation is the most civil any two characters in the film from (ostensibly) opposite sides of the racial divide have in considering the so-called social problem. Once their conversation reveals the limitations of each character's consciousness the music stops and the cursing/name-calling sequence commences. Here, the sudden absence of music during the swearing sequence punctuates it. Then, of course, Daddy Love cuts in to put a final halt to the progression. (Incidentally, Lee repeated the trash talking New Yorkers sequence in 25th Hour but with far less effectiveness.)

This film is the rare instance where all of the music is integral to the telling of the story. As I alluded to earlier, among other components, the use of music here is the culmination of what Lee did with music in previous efforts, especially School Daze, a musical that directly preceeded this.

Also, no one's mentioned how the tense situations the characters find themselves in bring out the humor in everyday situations - like the Energizer battery/Chinese corner store scene. Sloper, I think the best interpretation of Radio Raheem's involement here is his ability to laugh at himself once the owners of the store start throwing his curses back at him. (Also, I don't see RR so much as a figure with power as he is a figure of influence in the neighborhood. The cops are the real figures of power and the manner in which they exercise it is one of the bones of contention in the film)

But back to the humor point- the film is funny in so many places and I still crack up at the same scenes after having watched it a dozen or so times. As matrix pointed out, the content remains vital, not only because much of the racial politics haven't changed but because the human situations haven't changed.

And I'd always wondered if the nod that Spike Lee makes to Night of the Hunter (1955) is any more than a simple visual/verbal trope:

Image

"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!"
Preacher Harry Powell, The Night of the Hunter


Image

Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that's right. Ooh, it's a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he's down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.
Radio Raheem, Do The Right Thing

I'm still wondering.
Last edited by ando on Sun Apr 10, 2016 8:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#129 Post by zedz » Sun Apr 10, 2016 5:33 pm

ando wrote:And I'd always wondered if the nod that Spike Lee makes to Night of the Hunter (1955) is any more than a simple visual/verbal trope:

Image

"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!"
Preacher Harry Powell, The Night of the Hunter


Image

Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that's right. Ooh, it's a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he's down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.
Radio Raheem, Do The Right Thing

I'm still wondering.
For me, the incongruous film-geekery of that reference - and the weight Lee gives it as anything but a throwaway allusion - always amounted to Lee saying: "Yeah, I'm making a Great American Film here. Deal with it."

Of course, it also relates to the film's ideas about cultural colonialism and the complexities of American culture, as here it's an example of a black youth co-opting the words of a bunch of old white guys. While the same black youth is constantly blasting out lyrics that decry cultural appropriation: "Elvis was a hero to most / but he never meant shit to me. / Straight out racist the sucker was, / simple and plain. / Motherfuck him and John Wayne."

And Radio Raheem may not be aware of this, but Spike Lee certainly is: in Night of the Hunter, the parable of the simple fight of good against evil is the con-game of a psychopath. The whole point of Lee's film is the difficulty of distinguishing between the two.

(There's also the possible implication that Radio Raheem is way more culturally sophisticated than he appears on the surface.)

User avatar
ando
Bringing Out El Duende
Joined: Mon Dec 06, 2004 6:53 pm
Location: New York City

Re: Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

#130 Post by ando » Sun Apr 10, 2016 7:15 pm

zedz wrote: And Radio Raheem may not be aware of this, but Spike Lee certainly is: in Night of the Hunter, the parable of the simple fight of good against evil is the con-game of a psychopath. The whole point of Lee's film is the difficulty of distinguishing between the two.

(There's also the possible implication that Radio Raheem is way more culturally sophisticated than he appears on the surface.)
Ha. Well put. As for Radio Raheem's cinephilia - back in 2008 Michael Moriarty interviewed Lee and queried him on the Night of the Hunter homage:
Moriarty wrote:ME: In DO THE RIGHT THING, when Radio Raheem does the Love/Hate rap, is that Radio Raheem paying tribute to NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, or is that Spike Lee paying tribute to NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? He smiled at the question, and as he thought about it, he took my book and signed it and wrote a short message, and then handed it back, his smile growing bigger before he finally answered. SPIKE LEE: Radio Raheem ain’t never heard of Robert Mitchum.

User avatar
Lemmy Caution
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 3:26 am
Location: East of Shanghai

Jazz, Family

#131 Post by Lemmy Caution » Wed Apr 13, 2016 11:27 am

I think the jazz score is an important counterpoint to Public Enemy that Radio Raheem travels with.
While the film is known for its racial issues/polarization, it's also a film about the generational divide.
We really have 3 generations of black-Americans. The film focuses primarily on the younger generation Mookie, Buggin' Out, Radio Raheem, Jade & Tina, Pino & Vito and the young quartet, but there's also the middle aged generation represented by the chorus of 3 on the street corner, as well as Sal and even the Korean couple who run the grocery. And then then there's the older generation of Da Mayor and Sister Mother. Those two are kind of the conscience of the neighborhood. And we get a loud confrontation between one of the young guys and Da Mayor, which is very similar to the black/white arguments that pervade the film. We even get some glimpses of a 4th generation: the little kid who Da Mayor saves from the car and Mookie's son.

Spike Lee tries to survey black history across multiple generations. So not only do we have the new rap music, but the old jazz as well, plus stuff in-between as played by the radio station. And indeed at one point, Mr. Senor Love Daddy spiels a long list of black artists across eras and genres who he notes have improved our lives (I like how it ends with Mary Lou Williams -- a fave of mine and known in her latter years for her concerts incorporating the history of jazz from ragtime to free). And just as Spike Lee lines up a lot of young talented actors, he also casts venerable elders such as Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. The casting is wonderful and I like the way it relates to the themes as well. Davis and Dee, real-life husband and wife, play antagonists who get drawn together by the film's end. While they were also civil rights activists who knew well Martin and Malcolm, tying in with the film's concerns. And in that spirit, it's perfect that Spike Lee makes a film blaring edgy rap tunes, but also filled with a jazz score by his father Bill Lee. And it is a family affair, with Spike's sister Joie playing his sister in the film.

I think the generational themes are a major concern of the film, even if they get overshadowed. How does the past -- Malcolm and Martin -- guide us in the present day? What can we learn from the elders? Do they have anything to teach us? Da Mayor tries to impart wisdom and does save the youngest generation and prevents worse racial violence. Can Public Enemy and Mary Lou Williams (or Bill Lee) unite in one tradition?
I don't think we see one unified family in the film. We see Tina's mom, Sal & sons (but not his wife), Jade & Mookie, but never a father and mother -- a nuclear family. Mookie's avoidance of Tina seems directly attributable to his issues with being a father and having a son. There's some hope there -- and family seems to be the missing element, and the potential solution to link black culture to its history. There is one semi-exception, and that's the boy who almost gets run over and his mother says wait til your father gets home. Again, it's the youngest generation, the future, who has a future because he has a stable family.

Smiley goes around selling Martin Luther King and Malcolm X photos. Those two are often presented as opposite poles -- non-violence vs. a more militant approach. But they co-exist in Smiley's photos and in people's minds, and become the last additions to the Wall of Fame ... before it burns to ashes. Interestingly, Buggin' Out seems to be trying to combine the two approaches. He advocates and semi-organizes a distinctly MLK boycott, but he's fairly confrontational and aggressive about it. Though it's Sal and Radio Raheem who push things to violence (and eventually Mookie makes his contribution).
__________________________________________

As for the cursing, I do recall there were a lot of F-bombs for a mainstream film at that time. But there's also a good deal of humor mixed with some of the cursing. I always laugh when the Korean guy says an accented "Fuck You" and when Smiley says "F-f-ff-fuck you." Then there's Tina saying "I don't fucking curse that much." Or Sweet Dick Willie saying, "You should boycott that barber who fucked up your head."

User avatar
zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

Re: Jazz, Family

#132 Post by zedz » Wed Apr 13, 2016 4:48 pm

Lemmy Caution wrote:Can Public Enemy and Mary Lou Williams (or Bill Lee) unite in one tradition?
And the answer to that question is already built into 'Fight the Power', which has a sax middle eight by Branford Marsalis.

User avatar
Lemmy Caution
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 3:26 am
Location: East of Shanghai

Re: 97 Do the Right %#$%@# Thing

#133 Post by Lemmy Caution » Mon Apr 18, 2016 9:16 am

As for cursing, Do The Right Thing contains exactly 240 f-bombs, for an average of 2 per minute.
I accidentally ran across a list of films which give the most "fucks" and DTRT still ranks around 30th highest.
All the others on the list (with more) are from the 90's or later, so DTRT was advanced in terms of dropping f-bombs, and I assume some audience members weren't prepared for such. An Eddie Murphy live film from 1987 is the next highest 80's entry and that had "only" 224 f-bombs. Born on the 4th of July, also 1989, clocked in at 196.
In 1990, a year after Right Thing, Goodfellas whipped out 300 f*'s, in a longer runtime.
Reservoir Dogs clocks in with 269 in 1992.
It looks like 8 other films in the 90's topped Do The Right Thing, a number of which involved Tarantino.
Last edited by Lemmy Caution on Mon Apr 18, 2016 11:51 am, edited 1 time in total.

ALLCAPSAREBASTARDS
Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2015 11:50 am

Re: 97 Do the Right %#$%@# Thing

#134 Post by ALLCAPSAREBASTARDS » Mon Apr 18, 2016 9:59 am

Lemmy Caution wrote:As for cursing, Do The Right Thing contains exactly 240 f-bombs, for an average of 2 per minute.
I accidentally ran across a list of films which give the most "fucks" and DTRT still ranks around 30th highest.
All the others on the list are from the 90's or later, so DTRT was advanced in terms of dropping f-bombs, and I assume some audience members weren't prepared for such. An Eddie Murphy live film from 1987 is the next highest 80's entry and that had "only" 224 f-bombs. Born on the 4th of July, also 1989, clocked in at 196.
In 1990, a year after Right Thing, Goodfellas whipped out 300 f*'s, in a longer runtime.
Reservoir Dogs clocks in with 269 in 1992.
It looks like 8 other films in the 90's topped Do The Right Thing, a number of which involved Tarantino.
What's the film with the highest f's/minute?

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#135 Post by domino harvey » Mon Apr 18, 2016 10:05 am

The Wolf of Wall Street

EDIT: actually, per minute, looks like Nil by Mouth narrowly edged it out (ignoring the two swearing-focused features), though Wolf at three hours still almost is the top at that as well as overall

User avatar
MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
Location: Worthing
Contact:

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#136 Post by MichaelB » Mon Apr 18, 2016 10:08 am

Unsurprisingly, it's the documentary Fuck (2005), with 9.21 examples per minute.

Second is Swearnet (2014) with 8.35.

And third is Nil By Mouth with 3.34. The Wolf of Wall Street is third for quantity, but the lengthy running time gives it a lower per-minute score.

(source)

Oh, and it goes without saying that this link is NSFW, but if you want to hear all the swearwords in The Wolf of Wall Street in one go, go right ahead.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#137 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Apr 18, 2016 12:27 pm

I don't know how it holds up in this company but I remember seeing the South Park movie in a cinema in Sheffield and it being prominently advertised on a whiteboard in the lobby as having the most swearwords to date, but then that film featured a wider variety of cursing!

User avatar
Yaanu
Joined: Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:18 am

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#138 Post by Yaanu » Mon Apr 18, 2016 1:44 pm

colinr0380 wrote:I don't know how it holds up in this company but I remember seeing the South Park movie in a cinema in Sheffield and it being prominently advertised on a whiteboard in the lobby as having the most swearwords to date, but then that film featured a wider variety of cursing!
I believe it still maintains the record for the most swear words in an animated film.


User avatar
swo17
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:25 am
Location: SLC, UT

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#140 Post by swo17 » Mon Apr 15, 2019 4:44 pm


User avatar
TwoTecs
Joined: Fri Mar 10, 2017 10:26 pm

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#141 Post by TwoTecs » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:14 pm

The stills and the preview from the new restoration look really good.

User avatar
hearthesilence
Joined: Fri Mar 04, 2005 4:22 am
Location: NYC

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#142 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:22 pm

If those stills are what the BD will actually look like, hell yes.

User avatar
movielocke
Joined: Fri Jan 18, 2008 12:44 am

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#143 Post by movielocke » Mon Apr 15, 2019 5:57 pm

That is a hell of a Stacked 2nd edition, 2 disc bluray set. Damn.

User avatar
PfR73
Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2005 6:07 pm

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#144 Post by PfR73 » Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:06 pm

At this point, the special features listing is missing the 2nd Lee-only commentary from the Blu-Ray

User avatar
aox
Joined: Fri Jun 20, 2008 12:02 pm
Location: nYc

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#145 Post by aox » Wed Apr 17, 2019 9:34 am

Are the stills on CC's website usually indicative of how the BD will look?

With the special features, this looks fantastic all around.

User avatar
soundchaser
No longer chasing skirts
Joined: Sun Aug 28, 2016 12:32 am

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#146 Post by soundchaser » Sun Jun 30, 2019 8:10 pm

Saw the restoration in a theater today — surprisingly enough, it popped up this morning for a grand total of one showtime in my whole state.

I don’t have a lot to say about the content that hasn’t already been said. It’s a masterwork in nuance and ambiguity.

But the color timing is definitely different from the DVD and the Turbine release. It’s somewhere between those and the Universal Blu: yellow, but not covered in a blanket of the stuff. It was my first time seeing the film, so I can’t say how accurate it was, but those screenshots on Criterion’s website are not misrepresentative.

User avatar
senseabove
Joined: Wed Dec 02, 2015 3:07 am

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#147 Post by senseabove » Tue Jul 02, 2019 4:51 pm

Saw this (gorgeous, to my amateur eye) restoration last night, and the theater played a ~10 minute featurette with "The Criterion Collection" bumpers before the movie. My wild guess is that it's the 2009 one of "Three programs from 2000 and 2009, featuring Lee and cast and crew members Barry Alexander Brown, Chuck D, Dickerson, Richard Edson, Frankie Faison, Jon Kilik, Kevin Ladson, Steve Park, Rosie Perez, Luis Ramos, Monty Ross, John Savage, Roger Guenveur Smith, and John Turturro," because iirc in it Rosie Perez mentioned something about it being twenty years on. It was... weird. I've never seen anything like that shown in a theater, especially not for an otherwise bog-standard double-feature rep screening. And this wasn't even at one of the rep houses that sometimes do staff intros or something like playing related/thematic trailers (i.e. not upcoming, scheduled movies). Makes me wonder if Janus is asking theaters to play it, as it doesn't seem like something this theater would just decide to do.

User avatar
Ribs
Joined: Fri Jun 13, 2014 1:14 pm

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#148 Post by Ribs » Tue Jul 02, 2019 10:06 pm

Universal put the movie in semi-wide release with that package attached.

User avatar
FrauBlucher
Joined: Mon Jul 15, 2013 8:28 pm
Location: Greenwich Village

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#149 Post by FrauBlucher » Thu Jul 04, 2019 4:13 pm


User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: 97 Do the Right Thing

#150 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jul 04, 2019 4:24 pm

Looks like soundchaser was dead on in describing Criterion's new version as halfway between their DVD and the Universal Blu

Post Reply