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Rewatching this film it really is difficult to understand how this could have caused controversy or offence on its release. Ok its honest and gritty but its not offensive in anyway its a brutal 'story' of life in an area of New York where confusion turns into violence.
Directed by Spike Lee, the film was released in 1989 with a stellar soundtrack and some pretty great actors too.
Centred around a community in New York, we follow Pookie (Spike Lee) a pizza delivery boy as we meet the weird and wonderful residents of his neighbourhood, from his feisty girlfriend (Rosie Perez) to his boss Sal (Danny Aiello), we see the struggles for young black men in New York as well as those of Italian Americans, however the film centres on a build up of tension between different sections of the community which result in danger, anger and eventually violence and tragedy.
Danny Aiello ... Salvatore 'Sal' Fragione
Ossie Davis ... Da Mayor
Ruby Dee ... Mother Sister
Richard Edson ... Vito
Giancarlo Esposito ... Buggin Out
Spike Lee ... Mookie
Bill Nunn ... Radio Raheem
John Turturro ... Pino
Paul Benjamin ... ML
Frankie Faison ... Coconut Sid
Did I like it:
Being honest, I love the film, it has dated a lot and while its still a film with a lot to say its not as aggressive as people made it out to be. The evocation of neighbourhood and community is touching and the hottest summer in years appears to me to be a metaphor for racial tension as the heat rises so does the atmosphere, comments between African American and Italian American residents takes on renewed anger until it erupts into horrific violence.
The film is unapologetic in accepting that life in a poor neighbourhood is hard work and you have to cut corners to survive. The soundtrack of Public Enemy tracks continues to show the anger and political nature of this film.
The film is bright and colourful and for me the visuals are the most dated part of the film, the tension and build up between communities is scary and you get drawn into it without realising. Spike Lee is a very good director, but being honest he's an average actor so his central role is distracting at times. Rosie Perez however shows why she was the go to girl at that time for spunky, spirited actresses, she exudes charm, confidence and you can see who is in charge in her relationship throughout.
Sanny Aiello and his two sons, one an obvious racist and one brought up in a multicultural society are not shown as outright villains as with every character in the film they are multi dimensional and they have good points but their anger is explained and the change in nature of jokes, comments and relationships in this film is still relevant and terrifying today.
Overall I enjoyed this film as much on my third viewing as I did my first ten years ago, the music and visuals are caught in that era, however the political message and story are still as relevant as ever without being preachy. It is a thought provoking film not afraid to be honest and offend where necessary.
Watch it, enjoy it, hate it but remember when the film was made it was hugely controversial.
The DVD can be bought on Ebay for 99p or on Amazon for £3.93. It includes theatrical trailer, directors commentary and music videos.
Say what you will about Spike Lee and his excessive indulgences, Do the Right Thing is without a doubt his certifiaible masterpiece, a searing look at race relations on one particularly testing day. The film recieved massive acclaim and was curiously snubbed in several Oscar categories. It has also been preserved by the National Film Registry as being "historically, culturally, or aesthetically significant", of which the former two, it most certainly is.
The film is set on one street in Brookyln where, on the hottest day of the year, race relations between blacks and Puerto Ricans build and build, resulting in a violently explosive climax, where loyalties are tested, and one is asked - what is the right thing to do? The main character is Mookie (Spike Lee), a pizza delivery boy who becomes caught between the fracas of the two "sides", and is among the few sensible and vocal members of the community. The film's best performance, though, comes from Salvatore "Sal" Frangione (Danny Aiello), who owns the pizza delivery chain, and is attempting to temper race relations in the town, whilst trying to maintain his business. John Turturro also makes an early career performance as Pino, a racist Latin American who wants to escape this melting pot of race and culture.
What's more striking about the film is its inherent moral complexity - it asks plenty of questions and leaves the viewer to fervently discuss what the "right thing" is at the film's climax. It's a great water cooler film, and I myself have had several deep discussions with friends about the climactic scene.
Spike Lee examines race relations in and between blacks and Italian-Americans in this edgy drama, asking tantalising questions of morality and righteousness, with typically strong direction from Lee and stellar performances throughout.
Do the right thing is set in Brooklyn in 1989 and was produced by Spike Lee and his production company "40 acres and a mule." For me this really helps me to understand what really is behind the production. It is meant to demonstrate the injustice that the black community still feel in the inner cities. It stars Spike Lee as Mooko a pizza delivery boy working in a predominantly black area for a Italian pizzaria. The action takes place within one day and it is packed with symbolism, it is obvious that it being set on the hottest day of the year is interntional, as it is supposed to represent the racial tension boiling over and causing chaos within the neighbourhood. This film is obviously meant to be a political statement and it for me was hard to enjoy. The cast were good, but the storyline was fairly weak. There was not a plot as such, but we do know that the whole film is simply meant to be a backdrop for the 15 minutes of action we see at the end. We are shown the tension within the community, using a vareity of different racial minorities combining and interlinking, and then tension that occurs when so many different cultures live in a small area. The black people resent the Korean shop owner for having a sucessful business in their area, they hate the mainly white police because they feel victimised. However it is a suprise to the audience when it is the pizzaria that is targetted at the end by the commuinty. The trouble starts when a friend of Mooko is kicked out of the pizzaria by the Italian American owner for arguing with the onwer as he wanted a black person in the hall of fame instead of just Italian Americans. When he is thrown out he tries to boycot the pizzaria no-one wants to join him. However the racist comments start towards dusk ending with a tragic climax. Spike Lee is clearly trying to make a political comment towards the end of the film, it takes the white policemen to come and sort the incident o
ut, they are badly represented, they are violent, unhelpful and aggrevate racial tension. Lee clearly feels bitter about the way he was treated in his past (the name of his production company says it all), but I am not sure that this is a positive piece of material. None of the chracters come out postively and there is no suggestion about resolution. This is an early film by Spike Lee and is a long one at just under 3 hours. However, I as a white woman, who lives in a market town in England found this film frustrating as I found the problems easy enough to solve. It is clearly a film aimed at Americans who live in inner city areas.
The of the best dramatic films at heart are incredibly simple. They have no special effects sequences, they have no defining set pieces, they just tell a story but do it well. Do The Right Thing is one of Spike Lee's best films and it's also one of his most simple efforts as well. It's an incredibly hot day in Brooklyn, Mookie (Spike Lee) is waking up and going to work at the local pizza restaurant. All he does is deliver pizzas and take jibes from the bigoted son of the restaurant owner. The community is primarily black but the pizza joint where most hang out is run by italian americans, the convienience store across the street is run by koreans with a struggling grasp of the english language. We're introduced to many colourful characters throughout this day as the sun bakes the streets and the temparature shows no signs of letting up. Soon the heat gets to everybody and their pent up rage turns into violence by the day's end with some sad circumstances. Lee's film works on a number of levels. You have some distinct humour from guys who just spend their days sitting on the street talking through the the old drunk guy who everyone calls 'mayor. Yow then have some subtle sweetness as Mayor tries to woo the wise woman on the block Mother Sister. Then you have the humour that is tinged with some foreboding danger such Buggin Out whose constant abuse of the restaurant owners can only lead to bad things. The performances are all excellent although Lee perhaps takes on a little more than he can handle by taking the lead role. He still holds his own but he's not the best actor on the block in this film. The characters are all played by some now recognisable faces so you have the likes of John Turturro and Bill Nunn amongst a stellar cast where everybody is so oridinary you totally buy the situation. Lee shoots the film in a crisp golden hue so you really feel the heat and everything feels so laid back tha
t you get comfortable and just buy into the story as it plays out. I think the reason many people call this Lee's best film is because it's got a story of racial tension but it's one that doesn't really force it's issues across to the audience. Instead it simply happens and becomes a positive piece of black cinema rather than one that just moans about 'the white man'. It also doesn't have a lot of the strong black messages throughout the film liek later Spike Lee films and although I like that kind of thing from Lee I can understand that not everyone can buy into it. Do The Right Thing is a great film, a classic of it's era and fine proof that you just need a good story and good characters to have a good time.
Spike Lee invites controversy and discussion with his films, and Do the Right Thing remains his masterpiece and the best film to come out of the 1980's. Produced in 1989 Lee's film opened to considerable critical acclaim along with a great many reviews condemning its explosive and violent content, expressing the fear that the film would be accompanied with racial riots by angry blacks wherever the film would be shown. We heard the same type of warnings from people who feared Malcolm X back in the 1960's, so it is little wonder that Lee would soon film Malcolm X. The notion that Do the Right Thing would spark riots is ludicrous, and gives plain evidence that Lee's messages about racism are self evident in those racist reviews. As Lee points out in the new 2 disc Criterion DVD release, those same critics don't express fear about white kids rioting in the streets after watching a movie like Terminator. Why do they assume that African Americans are so gullible that they can't tell reality from film, especially when you see how stylized Do the Right Thing actually is? The Community As far as the story goes, the theatrical conceit consists a simple one-day slice of life. Take the hottest day of the year on a city block in the Bedford-Stuyevesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, noted for being a community for the black underclass. Show the various individuals of that block, and weave their stories together to show how this is a living and breathing community that will have its racial problems eventually surface to the top in a Howard Beach inspired climax of chaotic proportions. The inhabitants of the block are primarily black, but the two businesses facing each other on the corner are not. A fixture for over 25 years, Sal's Pizzeria has fed the neighborhood through more than one generation now, and Sal (Danny Aiello) has plans for his sons to take over his business for the future. Across the street lies th
e Korean fruit and vegetable stand, which irritates Coconut Sid (Frankie Faison) since they just "got off the boat" and already own their own business in his neighborhood. Sid declares that one day he's going to open up his own business too (saving from his social security checks, perhaps?), but his sidekick Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris) laughs at him and declares that he's going to give those Koreans some of his money for their cold beer. He knows that Sid and he are just going to sit at that corner everyday and comment on the world as it goes by without ever doing anything to change it. Mookie (Spike Lee), on the other hand, just wants to get paid. He may be the lazy, shiftless bum and irresponsible father that his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) thinks he is, but Mookie does have a job at Sal's delivering pizza. Never mind that he spends more time finding ways to slow down his delivery time to do less work, but he's earning money. In one sense Mookie bridges the white and black communities by wearing his Jackie Robinson shirt and being able to talk "brother talk" to the locals while being the sole black employee of Sal's establishment. Sal may be the most complex character in the ensemble piece, as he attempts to be a tough business owner who still wants to get along with everyone. He doesn't recognize his own racist views when he refers to "these people," yet where does his oldest son Pino (John Turturo) get his blatantly racist views? Pino hates the place, hates the neighborhood, and has no problem calling the locals "niggers" mostly behind their backs even though he loves Prince, Dwight Gooden, and Magic Johnson. His younger brother Vito (Richard Edson) contrasts completely and may be the one character who carries no racial baggage - no deep thinker, he just sees people as people and doesn't understand what the big deal is about racial differences. We meet many o
f the other neighbors on the block as well. The elderly are represented by Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) and Mother Sister (Ruby Dee). Da Mayor offers his wisdom, but the younger generation mostly regards him as a drunken bum while Mother Sister has her own irritations with him at first, as she sits watch over the street all day long. There are a number of young men and women on the block, highlighted by Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) who blasts Public Enemy over his giant boom box continually while speaking very few words and Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) as the non working militant who demands that Sal put some "brothers" on his wall with the American Italians on his Wall of Fame. There's also a retarded Smiley (Roger Smith) continually hawking his Martin Luther King and Malcolm X photos to the neighborhood. Overseeing the community, and serving commentary on the goings on is the local disc jockey Mister Senor Love Daddy (Sam Jackson before he was known as Samuel L.) The action starts slowly as we get to know the community, and there are many light touches near the beginning (like the convertible that gets a thorough dousing from the water hydrant), but racial tensions mount until they explode with the much-discussed violent ending. What is the point? I can certainly sympathize with Lee for getting tired of hearing the same old question of whether Mookie "did the right thing." If this is the deepest question that you can muster after seeing the film, you weren't watching close enough. Every character in the film makes choices, and don't expect easy answers. Racism has been going on since the creation of man, so why should anyone expect Spike Lee to solve and resolve these issues in a two-hour span? Besides, why do so many who see the film focus on the property destruction and overlook the actions taken by the police? Spike Lee's films often make us think about racial and societal issue
s in ways that white directors can't. Lee has been criticized for leaving out the drug issue in his film, as many automatically assume that any film set in the underclass black community must contain a drug problem. The background documentary provides a wonderful section showing a Black Muslim group in Bedford-Stuy that has closed down a known crack house, clearly showing that this community doesn't automatically tolerate drugs. With drugs being so prominent across society, why don't directors depicting upper class whites depict the drug problem as a matter of course? For Lee to add a drug component to Do the Right Thing would only cloud the race issue that dominates this film, and Lee deals with the drug issue in movies like Jungle Fever and Clockers. When Do the Right Thing causes discomfort for an audience, one of Lee's missions is accomplished. No one is perfect in this film, so don't think that Lee is simply criticizing whites for their racism. People from all racial backgrounds should feel challenged by something in the film, but that's what makes growth possible. There's a nice section that clearly challenges the black community as well to get off their behinds and create their own business opportunities. The fact that the Academy Awards ignored Lee's film and honored the more palatable Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 will forever taint the credibility of the Oscars, but very few people take them seriously for artistic merit anyway. Years from now people will still be watching Do the Right Thing and marveling at its wonderful characters, script, cinematography, and overall chemistry while Driving Miss Daisy will remain a footnote in the Internet Movie Database as the Oscar winner for Best Film in 1990 and will remain a dusty video that remains largely unwatched. If you doubt Do the Right Thing's artistry, get hold of the Criterion special edition DVD and check out the extra sessions with the cinematographer a
nd editor and also watch how Spike Lee works with his actors and script. Film Elements While I may criticize Universal Studios for producing commercial schlock like Jurassic Park: The Lost World, I must give them credit for entrusting Spike Lee with sufficient funds to make the movie that he envisioned. His decision to shoot Do the Right Thing on location in Bedford-Stuyevesant is brilliant, as it lends a realism to the set design that wouldn't have felt right on a back lot. Forget the fact that the sky may not always be blue with cumulus clouds during that one day, and realize that the cinematographer has done a wonderful job matching the lighting on the eight-week shoot, including the days that it was raining. The camera work in Lee's films generally strike me as fresh, energetic, and lively. Credit cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson with much of the creative work. Dickerson has done the cinematography for seven of his films from his initial 1983 NYU student film Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads to his 1992 Malcolm X. His efforts to match the lighting in Do the Right Thing are magnificent, and the judicial use of Dutch angles adds a great deal to the contemporary feel of the film. One other shot I really love comes near the end inside Mother Sister's apartment with Da Mayor as the camera slowly tracks backwards out of the window to Mookie on the street. It's a great transition. And transitions are creatively accomplished throughout Lee's film, so credit must go to the editor Barry Alexander Brown and scriptwriter Spike Lee. With so many characters involved, the organization of the film potentially could prove to be very messy; however, the film script flows naturally and retains an exceptional tightness that focuses on the racial tensions of the community. One transition that I really admire occurs right after Radio Raheem is cussing out the Korean shopowners for not understanding his que
stions about his radio batteries. Immediately after we are across the street looking through Sal's pizzeria window at the Korean market as Radio Raheem emerges from the store. There are similar touches throughout the film that connect the seemingly disjointed scenes together, through a camera shot or a song or a piece of dialogue like the three street sitters and police who mutually glare at each other while saying "What a waste" to communicate the feelings between these two entities in just a few seconds. No one can watch this film without being drawn to the three street "bums." While much of this is due to the humorous exchanges and the fact that these characters exist in every community, another striking aspect is that bright flaming red brick wall behind them. The cinematographer and set designer Steve Rosse worked together to create tones that would communicate the hotness of the day, and the wall is just one blatant example. Note subtler brown and reddish tones in other scenes and straight bright sunlit sets until the evening begins, where we are then introduced to green rooms with bluish lighting. While the camera work is outstanding, it's impossible to have a truly great film without some tremendous acting performances. Spike Lee gathers a diverse cast in background and acting experience for Do the Right Thing, and he handles them beautifully. It's amazing to think that Rosie Perez is making her film debut here after Lee had noticed her dancing at a party he was at. He certainly puts her dancing talents on exhibition effectively during one of the most energetic opening credits you'll ever see, and watch her jutting chin as she angrily tells Mookie what a worthless bum he is. Two other relatively inexperienced movie actors who later go on to a great deal of acting acclaim are Samuel Jackson and John Turturro. One of my favorite scenes becomes an acting tour de force between Turturro and Danny A
iello, who deservedly received an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor. This scene also shows how Lee has created such a community with his actors that they can go off the script and improvise and create some truly magical moments. Examine the scene inside Sal's Pizzeria when Pino and Sal intimately explain what they think of their work in the community. Near the end of the scene, Smiley interrupts by tapping on the glass, and Pino goes outside and begins to harangue the retarded Smiley while Sweet Dick Willie offscreen begins to shout at Pino to leave the boy alone (this is all unscripted). Meanwhile, Sal inside despairs that his son is behaving so badly in a community that he has grown to appreciate, at some level. I marvel when I realize how real this scene is, and this is accomplished because Lee has allowed these actors to realize their characters. Finally Do I sound like I'm gushing about this film? Well, I am. Do the Right Thing is one of my favorite films, and will be on my all time top ten list whenever I seriously get around to creating such a mythological entity. It may have a few uneven places, just as all of Spike Lee's films are noted for that quality. But Do the Right Thing is the most unified of his work, and stands as a landmark film in American cinema. Never before had I seen any film that treated the urban black community so realistically and contained such a microcosm of racial issues that are worth discussing worldwide. Racism is truly the most challenging and pervasive issue facing America, and the same basic issue exists elsewhere. No other film has ever tackled the issue as directly with as much humanity, sensitivity, and reality as Do the Right Thing.
Spike Lee's incendiary look at race relations in America, circa 1989, is so colourful and exuberant for its first three-quarters that you can almost forget the terrible confrontation that the movie inexorably builds toward. Do the Right Thing is a joyful, tumultuous masterpiece--maybe the best film ever made about race in America, revealing racial prejudices and stereotypes in all their guises and demonstrating how a deadly riot can erupt out of a series of small misunderstandings. Set on one block in Bedford-Stuyvesant on the hottest day of the summer, the movie shows the whole spectrum of life in this neighbourhood and then leaves it up to us to decide if, in the end, anybody actually does the "right thing." Featuring Danny Aiello as Sal, the pizza parlour owner; Lee himself as Mookie, the lazy pizza-delivery guy; John Turturro and Richard Edson as Sal's sons; Lee's sister Joie as Mookie's sister Jade; Rosie Perez as Mookie's girlfriend Tina; Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee as the block elders, Da Mayor and Mother Sister; Giancarlo Esposito as Mookie's hot-headed friend Buggin' Out; Bill Nunn as the boom-box toting Radio Raheem; and Samuel L Jackson as DJ Mister Señor Love Daddy. This is a rich and nuanced film to watch, treasure and learn from--over and over again. --Jim Emerson