RogerBW's Blog

Do The Right Thing (1989) 16 February 2022

1989 drama, dir. Spike Lee, Danny Aiello; IMDb / allmovie. On the hottest day of the year, on a block in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, nobody was planning that the day would end with a death.

I should disclaim: I am a reasonably-well-off white English man, and this culture is entirely alien to me. This film wasn't made for me. But it was given a general release; and I still found it profoundly impressive.

For a start, in an era when The Bad Part of Town was typically portrayed as a non-stop parade of gun battles and overdoses, these people are just trying to get by. They're a community. Presumably there would in reality be dealers and the things that go with them – there certainly were on the filming location, making threats about the disruption to their business, until Lee hired the Fruit of Islam to supplement the regular security – but nobody here is interested in that.

And this is one of the few films to be set during a hot day that doesn't let one forget it: in an era before digital colour correction, it was achieved by repainting the entire block of Stuyvesant Avenue on which the film was shot (as well as some careful lighting), and as a very technical person I find I have more admiration for practical effects that need real physical effort than for digital ones which, even if they're complex to set up, are at least subject to version control and quickly trying multiple things until you hit on the one that works.

The big-picture stuff, the way the racism in all directions continues and feeds on itself, is well-handled (a Marxist would say that encouraging fear of the other is the point, that the lower classes must think of other lower classes as the enemy so that they don't work out who's actually keeping them down and how few of them there are). Where it falls down for me is in the translation to the small scale, when we're actually talking with Sal and Mookie and Vito and Buggin' Out; they feel as though they're having to stand for everyman of their type as well as for themselves as individuals, and that's never quite a comfortable fit.

On the other hand… all right, getting into spoiler territory here, though I think the plot of the film is reasonably well-known by now. Does Mookie "do the right thing" when, having seen his friend semi-accidentally killed by the terrified police, he turns an angry mob into a rioting mob? The film doesn't have a pat answer: it just shows you the situation. As far as he's concerned, setting aside any ethical questions, the immediate consequence is that he loses his job and won't get another one; it's not a sensible thing to do. And yet, on the hottest night following the hottest day, when a man has just died and been taken away like the garbage, and absolutely everyone has run out of fucks to give… one can absolutely see why it might seem like perhaps not the right thing to do but the only thing to do.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1