Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #39: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Touché, Criterion Collection. Touché.

I'm not sure why it took me this long to see Spike Lee's canonical breakout, appropriately included in the Criterion Collection, but I'm very glad I did.

The film, which takes place in a small neighbourhood in Brooklyn in the midst of an almost biblical heat wave, provides an excellent examination of race relations and the unfortunate power of groupthink, but it does it with a cast of colourful characters in a way that's genuinely entertaining.

Over the course of one ridiculously hot Saturday, Do The Right Thing takes the time to introduce the audience to the eccentric and diverse staples of the neighbourhood. The action centres around Sal's Famous Pizzeria, and we spend the film following Mookie (Spike Lee) as he puts in a day's work delivering Sal's pizzas. (A clever excuse for capturing all kinds of neighbourhood interactions on camera? Indeed, Spike Lee. Indeed.)

Through Mookie's wanderings, we meet people like:

-Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), an endearing old lecturer whose taste for Miller High Life gives him something of a bum rap on the block.

-Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), a maternal figure who (quite literally) watches out for the community from her front window.

-Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito), a friend of Mookie's and an outspoken protégé of Malcolm X.

-Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), the boombox-totin' giant pictured above.

-And Mister Señor Love Daddy, a radio DJ played by a young Samuel L. Jackson who periodically offers a narrative voice for the events of the film.

And, of course, there's a host of other nearby dwellers, all of whom add to the film's rich tapestry of characters.

The film looks at racial tensions between several ethnic groups, and its inclusion of all forms of prejudice, from the virtually unspoken to the outright violent, makes its message more effective.

It's also interesting that Do The Right Thing doesn't have defined heroes or villains. Each character seems to have elements of both, except perhaps Sal's villainous, racist and hostile son, Pino, fastidiously played by John Turturro.

Overall, Lee's cinematic breakthrough provides a piece of relevant and effective social commentary that's presented not in a preachy way, but in a way that's entertaining and engaging.

After all, you need to feel for these characters in order to care about what happens at the film's explosive climax.

Luckily, if there's anything Spike Lee can do, it's instilling that kind of caring in his audience.

A brief trip to Wikipedia informed me that Do The Right Thing has been identified as "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress, and I certainly don't disagree.

I'd recommend Do The Right Thing as a classic example of cinematic importance, and invite anyone with an interest in social dynamics to check it out.

I mean, come on--clearly it's the right thing to do.

1 comment:

GenXpert said...

Interesting thing about this movie - so of it doesn't stand the test of time.

This film had a profound impact on me as a high school student, but when I showed it to a class of college kids I was teaching, they thought the dance sequences with Rosie Perez were supposed to be funny.

When I showed this film, I also showed Driving Miss Daisy, which one the Oscar that year. Both dealt with race, but Do the Right Thing was clearly more ground breaking. You should take a look at that film, too, and compare/contrast.