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DO THE RIGHT THING (1989)

Do The Right Thing - CoverThe Criterion Collection’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the urban classic, ‘Do the Right Thing’. It was directed by Spike Lee; it starred Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Samuel L. Jackson; and it lasts for 120-minutes. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the two-disk Blu-ray edition comes with an introduction by Lee, a feature-length documentary, deleted scenes, new interviews, new featurettes, a music video, footage from behind-the-scenes, the original storyboards, trailer, and TV spots, as well as an audio commentary provided by Spike, Dickerson, Wynn Thomas, and Joie Lee. Please enjoy.


Do the Right Thing [The Criterion Collection]


THE STORY:
Greetings, brothers and sisters, it’s Mister Señor Love Daddy here (Samuel L. Jackson), speaking to you live on We-Love Radio 108 FM.

Now, for today’s top news story all you have to do is open a window and feel how hot it is outside. In fact, the weather is so hot and so humid, I think it’s starting to make everyone living in our neighborhood act real crazy!

I mean, just take a look at what’s happening down at ‘Sal’s Pizzeria’, for instance! Well, from what I’ve heard through the grapevine, namely, my pal Mookie (Spike Lee), there are plans in motion to protest the place because the owner, Sal (Danny Aiello), only puts pictures of Italian-Americans on the wall, rather than pictures of our darker-skinned brothers! Allegedly, a gang of at least two people, maybe more, are going to go over there later on tonight and have it out with him, hoping they can resolve their differences or die trying!

But let’s face it, brothers and sisters, this isn't going to work. Not when there’s a huge amount of racial hatred among the different races that populate our community, ranging from the Africans, to the Italians, to the Koreans, to the Hispanics.

Still, that’s life for ya’, eh? Life in the hood! Which is most probably why what next transpires goes, glug-glug-glug, when I see the local drunk having a drink. As a gang of thugs begins to smell - a lovely Latina rings her bell - a conflict of interest refuses to dwell - and at the end of the day, despite the commotion, hello, and welcome to hell.




THE REVIEW:
When I was growing up there was a joke going around that went a little something like this: What’s the difference between Stan Lee, Spike Lee, Bruce Lee, Jason Lee, and Sir Christopher Lee? Nothing much, although I’m pretty sure at least one of them is Jewish.

Do The Right Thing - Spike Lee and Danny Aiello
Now, depending on your perspective, you could take this joke in either one of three ways. Firstly, you could perceive it as being racist due to the implication that there's an influx of Jews in the entertainment industry. Secondly, you could take it at face value and understand that it’s a very silly joke. And thirdly, you could slap me right in the face in order to prevent me from telling another missive!

So, which will it be? A Jew? A joke? Or a slapper? Keeping in mind that most people usually judge others based on their surroundings, their knowledge, as well as their own personal perceptions which can affect their everyday lives! Well, let’s face it, if you’ve been brought up in an urban environment with a high unemployment and crime rate, then there’s a pretty good chance that you might not like people in a position of power. Or alternatively, if you’ve been brought up in a plush, affluent area, where everyone lives in big stately mansions and has a holiday every year, Ka-Ching, it’s all good in the hood, Bro!

So, with this in mind, I can now start talking about something else that’s also about perception: Spike Lee’s 1989 classic, ‘Do the Right Thing’! Or as I like to call it, ‘Everyone’s a racist’. Well, maybe not everyone, per se, and maybe the word ‘racist’ isn’t the correct word to use either! Nonetheless, a lot of the characters who populate this picture are flawed human beings, and that’s precisely why I enjoyed watching it so much.

You see, to some extent, this movie is an ensemble piece which allows each character to talk about a wide variety of different topics and issues. This includes things like prejudice, alcoholism, gentrification, envy, single-parent mothers, police corruption, poverty, family obligations, as well as the lack of respect one person shows another. So, structurally, the actual story may seem all over the place when it comes down to telling a solid, cohesive narrative, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a story to find within this film. Far from it, in fact, because step, by step, by step, a central theme does eventually emerge, which pits the three main ethnic groups against each other in order to make a statement! A statement, I hasten to add, that takes the form of a silly argument between a businessman and a street urchin that gradually escalates throughout the course of an entire day... a very hot day.


Do The Right Thing - Samuel L. Jackson


Now, where the overall vibe of this film is concerned, all in all, I’d say that things were constructed on three different levels. Visually, everything played out like a live-action comic strip, with the camera positioned in such a way that it either captured POV styled shots or sequences that highlighted a depth of field. Aesthetically, most of the colors on display were bold, oversaturated, and mainly used to emphasize the fashions of the day (very 80s) or the humidity in the environment (very urban). And finally, acoustically, there’s the music, the rap music, 'Fight The Power' by Public Enemy, which was catchy, anthemic, and basically utilized to reinforce the nuanced message behind this movie.

Do The Right Thing - Rosie Perez
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now would be a good time to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Universal’ first released this picture at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ on the exact same day we now celebrate ‘National Devil's Food Cake Day’. It was on the 19th of May, 1989. (2) According to the writer / director, Spike Lee, this film was inspired by real-life events which happened in Howard Beach, New York City, where some black kids were chased out of a pizzeria by some white kids. (3) Loosely translated, this project was called ‘Tit for tat’ in Hungary, ‘Sal’s Pizzeria’ in Romania, and during pre-production, it was given the working title, ‘Heatwave’. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘It's the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can...’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot on location in New York City. Most notably, within the borough of Brooklyn, including such sites as Stuyvesant Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Avenue, and Lexington Avenue. (6) All of the scenes which featured Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin, and Frankie Faison, otherwise known as ‘the cornermen’, were mostly improvised and inserted into the film to break up the plot. (7) During pre-production, Joe Mantegna, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro were each offered to play the part of Sal, Laurence Fishburne was offered to play the part of Radio Raheem, James Earl Jones was offered to play the part of "Da Mayor", and Matt Dillon was offered to play the part of Pino. But, for reasons of their own, they each declined their respective offers due to prior work commitments or resistance to typecasting. (8) At a fundraiser he held in New York City, the former President of America, Barack Obama, said that both he and his wife Michelle saw this movie on their very first date, even though they were planning to see another movie instead, ‘Driving Miss Daisy’.


Do The Right Thing - Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin, and Frankie Faison


In closing my review of ‘Do the Right Thing’, I’d like to now do the right thing by highlighting most of the performances in order of preference. Now, at the top of my list, I want to mention Ossie Davis (Da Mayor), Ruby Dee (Mother Sister), Samuel L. Jackson (Mister Señor Love Daddy), Danny Aiello (Sal), and Joie Lee (Jade), because each actor managed to convey a unique quality on the screen that was both charming and captivating at the same time. Up next, there’s Giancarlo Esposito (Buggin' Out), Bill Nunn (Radio Raheem), John Turturro (Pino), Richard Edson (Vito), and Roger Guenveur Smith (Smiley), who each did a good job at being slightly caricatured yet very memorable. And last, but not least, a shout out goes to Rosie Perez (Tina) for her amazing dance sequence, the cornermen (Robin, Paul, and Frankie) for being so-so funny, and Spike Lee (Mookie) for always looking tired.

Do The Right Thing - Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
Actually, while I’m talking about Mookie, that reminds me: Did he do the right thing? Did he do the right thing when he inadvertently instigated the riot in retaliation to his friend's death? Well, as far as I’m concerned, yes, yes he did, but only for himself. Not for Sal. Not for the people living in his neighborhood. Only for himself, Mookie, as he needed to let out the anger and the aggression festering deep, deep inside, both for the loss of his friend as well as the complacent way he’s behaved for most of his life! Besides, he acts as the central figure within this story and I’m sure he wished he could have done something to prevent this tragedy! Maybe he could have persuaded Sal to put a picture on the wall of a popular black artist? Or alternatively, he might have been able to stop Buggin' Out's ban by getting him to understand that pictures mean nothing in a place you don’t respect. Respect, being the operative word in this instance, mainly for the tragedy of a lost life.

Anyway, all that aside, and on the whole, I would just like to say that I did enjoy watching this film because it was bold, well told, and brazen enough to say something that not a lot of people may want to hear.

THE RATING: A

DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) Reviewed by David Andrews on August 26, 2019 Rating: 5

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