Tuesday, April 5, 2011

AFI Top 100 Countdown #96: Do The Right Thing


Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee
Starring:  Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, and Ruby Dee

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

* Rottentomatoes.com score of 96%

*“A powerful and persuasive look at an ethnic community and what makes it tick--funky, entertaining, packed with insight, and political in the best, most responsible sense.”

-Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

*“A movie made by filmmaker working in sync with his times -- an exciting, disturbing, provocative film.”
-Hal Hinson, Washington Post

*Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert ranked the film as the best of 1989 and later ranked it as one of the top 10 films of the decade (Siskel #6, Ebert #4).

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

*Academy: 2 nominations: Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Danny Aiello)

*Golden Globes: 4 nominations

*Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and Chicago Film Critics Association Awards: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Director.

*Cannes: nominated for Golden Palm

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

*Budget- $6,500,000 (estimated)

*Gross- $27,545,445 (USA)

Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements

*In June 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine placed Do the Right Thing at #22 on its list of The 25 Most Controversial Movies Ever
Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

*In 1999, it was deemed to be "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, one of just five films to have this honor in their first year of eligibility.

Jonesy: I’ll flat out say it: I am almost too white to fully understand Do the Right Thing. I grew up in suburbia Dallas, and I just have to trust what people tell me about severe multi-cultural racism in Brooklyn in the late 80s. So, I feel I almost can’t comment on how culturally significant the movie is, whereas I see it more as a character study and discussion piece.

There’s not really a plot in Do the Right Thing. It’s a conglomeration of characters living their lives in heat of summer in Brooklyn. Most of the characters are very static and one note, but they play their part well. There are three older gentlemen who sit out on the street under an umbrella that sort of provides relief from the heat, and they comment, almost like a Greek chorus, about trials and tribulations of the neighborhood. The first 100 minutes are just bouncing around from character to character, and you never really see where the movie is going. The two most dynamic are Sal, the Italian who owns the local pizzeria, and Mookie, the protagonist in the film. Both have been subjugated to racism in their neighborhood, but both understand that for a person to be successful, you need to learn to look past someone’s ethnicity.

With that, I was very much in tuned and supportive of Mookie’s drive, until the climax of the film when he starts the riot that destroys Sal’s Pizzeria. Try as I might, I really don’t understand why Mookie started the riot. Almost any other character I could see the motivations, but there was literally nothing about Mookie that led up to that decision. I could reach and try to grasp a reason why, but nothing in the movie would support any answer I could come up with.

My favorite part of the movie was a sequence where blacks, whites, Koreans, and the Italians are looking straight at the camera calling each other horribly racial nicknames. I wished that scene had been earlier in the film because it would have set the tone better. Speaking of tone, at the very end of the movie, Spike Lee scrolls two very different quotes. One from Martin Luther King, Jr. about how violence for equality is never justified, then another from Malcolm X about how violence is intelligence against self-defense. I’m assuming he put both of those in there so you can read the movie with you believe/d about violence for equality. I’m all about conversations, but take a stand on the issue.

The movie overall lends itself to some interesting conversations of racial issues and how to achieve equality. Overall the movie is too long, doesn’t really have a plot, and a questionable final act.

Javi:  It takes a certain kind of director to be so blunt with sensitive issues such as prejudice and race relations. There’s been great entries such as REMEMBER THE TITANS and lesser so than that RADIO. Spike Lee is a man who knows how to tackle these issues in a truthful and almost blunt manner, and his movie 1989’s DO THE RIGHT THING tries to attempt this. While the movie has great character moments and themes that it attempts to establish, it fails to resonate the way that it seemed to be striving to.

When I was watching this movie, I wasn’t reminded of Spike Lee’s other movies as much as I was Quentin Tarantino and his style of dialogue driven drama. This is a movie where nothing happens apart from the last 15 minutes. It’s very frustrating because there are so few characters that matter in terms of plot that it becomes tedious to see them get highlighted every twenty minutes or so.

One of the biggest problems is the running time at two hours it is at least 40 minutes too long, and this isn’t me being a young whippersnapper and having ADD. The characters stop developing about halfway through the movie, and you’re only seeing traits and habits which were established in the first half of the movie. Given the fact that there are complete sequences that do not further the already thin plot along, and it makes you wonder why they are there. This is the first movie of the countdown that I have wanted to turn it off out of complete boredom and annoyance, and I can tolerate quite a bit.

What you really have is a commentary on double standards on racism. Three older men bicker and complain about how they don’t appreciate a Korean immigrant having a successful business in their neighborhood while complaining about their own living conditions and discrimination by cops. In this way, a lot of the characters are nothing more than ignorant loudmouths, and all of this is supposed to help build to a greater purpose or a point, given the climax of the movie. What’s interesting is that the whole movie could be summed up by the quote that Mookie’s sister says to a character complaining about a minute issue in an Italian pizzeria, “If you put all your energy into something positive, maybe we could do some good for the community.” Needless to say, there are no lessons learned here, by the end no one has benefited and maybe that is the actual social commentary at hand here.

The answers and the solutions for a more prosperous future within ourselves and our communities are right there but we choose to ignore them and choose to take the easy way, which is in this case is violence. Maybe it’s what you get out of it that matters and not what the fictional characters might have learned. The biggest thing that kills any emotional momentum is the betrayal by Spike Lee’s character Mookie. This is a problem for me, since there was no build up to this action. A friend of mine argued that Mookie’s actions represented the level of instability and chaos in the neighborhood at that moment, but even that explanation seems to be grasping for air.

If this movie is good for anything is that it laid the way for his supremely better film 25th HOUR many years later. A lot of the same issues are brought in that movie, especially about racism, but they are dealt with in a more precise and cohesive manner. I will say that once you read the two quotes by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, you see where Spike Lee was going with this movie, and the quotes will make you realize how bad he failed at attaining what he was going for.

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