Every film from Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" essays.
Do the Right Thing
It's the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can...
On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone's hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.
Director: Spike Lee (First Film)
Do the Right Thing feels entirely like a rough sketch of thoughts. Thoughts of anger, and compassion and understanding, of confusion and thoughts of course, of love and hate. It's as if Spike Lee had a vision and it was perfectly set out in his head, and he put it into film exactly as his thoughts dictated.
As the quotes from Martin Luthor King jr and then Malcolm X neatly placed in the end credits, there is a lot of contradicting points within the film, and thus there is no clear indication to what Spike Lee wants us to feel, to think and in doing so, this outright fairly portrayed reality entirely means…
Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.
That is the tail end of a Martin Luther King quote used before the end credits in Do The Right Thing. Now, if this film would've just ended with that full quote and then proceeded with the credits, I think one would come away with a very different opinion of this film. It kind of puts what you just saw into perspective and offers a strong voice to compliment the film.
But it doesn't.
Spike Lee turns around and shows another quote right after that. A Malcolm X quote stating that violence is intelligent when used in self defense. This makes things a little…
This isn't really a review, so don't expect any special insights here, but I thought it was necessary to note that considering recent events in Ferguson, now is as good a time as any to revisit Do the Right Thing. I've never written anything substantial on the film. I think about it often and consider it a personal favorite, so I feel strongly about addressing such topics of fiction intersecting with reality and the circular nature of racial tensions in America. However, this viewing is not going to be the one to make that happen. I don't have the words or energy at the moment to do it justice, so I'll have to stick to my usual generic praises.
In 1989 there were three films about race.
Of those three, two focused more on relationships between whites and blacks.
Those two films were Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy.
Both films were nominated for oscars.
Do the Right Thing was nominated for only two awards, and lost them both.
Miss Daisy was nominated for nine awards, winning four including Best Picture.
This just shows the academy voters' preferance for sticky and sentimental films rather for real and hard hitting films.
For me, Driving Miss Daisy is one of the most annoying and horrible films I have ever seen.
Even Spike Lee agrees, saying "because 20 years later, who’s watching Driving Miss Daisy?"
This may be a bit of hyperbole, but I cannot think of an opening credit sequence that better announces a new voice in cinema than the opening of Do the Right Thing. Rosie Perez’s in-your-face dancing while Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ blasts the soundtrack, is aggressive, sexy, confrontational, and totally of its time. It is unavoidable and urgent.
Urgent. If there is a single word that describes this film, I can’t think of a better one than “urgent”. It has the feeling of a movie that had to be made. There are some films (Star Wars comes to mind) that if they weren’t made ,when they were made, then someone else would have made them, and probably pretty close…
I'm not thrilled about having a muddled message throughout your film, then muddying it further with two lengthy quotes right at the credits. The whole meaningful quote at the close of the film feel hacky to me. I don't totally get what Spike Lee wants me to get with "Do the Right Thing." Is it promoting a violent overthrow or saying that the costs of it are too high? I can't tell, and I'm not entirely sure why Mookie does what he does.
What I can tell is this is a terrifically acted, directed, and written movie. Lee's decision to cast himself as the "lead" is interesting, but Mookie doesn't do so much as he is our window into this…
Aside from from its much acknowledged value in provoking thought about race relations, and a slew of fine performances, DO THE RIGHT THING is a beautiful movie with gorgeous color design, lighting, cinematography, and visual composition. Plus a great soundtrack and score (even the parts that don't stand out).
So, kudos to:
Cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson
Production Designer Wynn Thomas
Set Decorator Steve Rosse
Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter
Composer Bill Lee
1989's Do The Right Thing Is My Eighth Favorite Film Of All Time, I Like It Because It Turned 20 Years Old In 2009.
"Yo man your Jordans are FUCKED UP!" So is America right now.
This film is so good at being straight up entertaining, but injecting instances of escalating racial tension before culminating in a finale that is horrifying and deeply upsetting.
Wow, still such a relevant film today and the whole cast is brilliant. Especially Giancarlo Esposito, to name just one.
Spike Lee's best film is pretty much flawless and is still (sadly) relevant in 2014.
1989's Do The Right Thing Is My Eighth Favorite Film Of All Time, I Like It Because It Turned 25 Years Old This Year In 2014.
As relevant as it's ever been. I wish it wasn't.
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