Bed Stuy - Do or Die!
from Edinburgh, Scotland
, 01 Apr 2007
When you go to talk about a Spike Lee Joint you know youre not just talking about something important in cinema history, but also in American history. These are statements of truth for the black community in America and they carry with them a message that speaks a truth to every person who watches. Do the Right Thing came at a time of high racial tension and a time when black america was shouting to gets its voice heard above the white noise of those in charge. Public Enemy, as can be heard here, did a lot to give people that voice and Spike Lee is highly regarded for doing the same thing.
It is immediately apparent that this early offering from Lee is a product of its time, but how could it not be when it talks about such pressing issues? The 80s feel is all leg-warming, body-popping, lycra-wearing and in your face from the start, and the intro sequence is a great flip-side to the neighbourhood Cosby show intros of the same era, which it sets out to identify with. Lee reminds us at all times that this is local community in a black neighbourhood - which is what he does best - and that we should get to know our characters before we judge their actions.
This makes for a great level of skipping about between characters and loads of leeway for segues and interludes to happen. The film does feel a bit segmented at times and I regularly forgot that all of the action was supposed to be taking place over one day. However, the freedom allowed from covering so many different view points, gives us a great number of comedy moments and a greater investment in the community. From Sammy Ls turn as DJ Senor Love Daddy to the old men on the corner talking bull all day long to Ossie Davis and Ruby Dees romance; we live with these people so that we can feel what it is like when their community is faced with destruction at the hands of racial violence. And it hits hard.
At the base of this film lies the racial tensions that were running high in America and especially New York in the eighties. Here is a predominantly black community which is fed by Italians and provided for by Koreans, but which is protected - or more appropriately, policed - by White men. Everyone is busy trying to hold themselves together in a difficult situation where theres no work and theres no money; theyre trying to do their best to live beside other nationalities who live differently to them; theyre trying to figure out how a country like America is supposed to bond together; and most of all theyre trying to cope with the damned heat. Eventually something has to give.
We see in full blown detail how events escalate and then snowball one after the other into total carnage. It is not difficult to see how riots start and destruction is wrought because of one action. In the end it never comes down to who started it, it comes down to what people are fighting for; and in this film absolutely everybody is standing up for themselves and fighting for their own rights. They are all too busy asserting themselves that they fail to see it from any other point of view. As they fail to understand each other, they fail to co-exist and eventually turn on one another.
I was surprised to see Spike Lee himself being the one to start the mayhem as he launches the garbage can through the window. He is always the one to say calm down, he encourages us to think before we act, but here hes the one kicking it all off. It seems hes doing something artistically that he would never get to do in real life; hes showing us that hes the one (the easy-going, sensible, rational one) who gets most angry about it all and that he wants to do something about it.
He shows us what would happen, in convincing knock-on effect fashion, if people were to act on their feelings. We see the very quick disintegration of society and the strength of mob-rule; something that showed threatening signs of breaking through onto the real streets of America at the time. This is why he did it. This was what he wanted to show us. So that we may guard against it.
Ultimately this will be found to be Spike lees greatest achievement, and rightly so, for what it says and what it changed in peoples thoughts. The acting is superb, from a great cast; the dialogue is obviously snappy and flowing; the comedy is laugh out loud - just check the three stooges and the battery scene; and the message is clear. All making an astounding film that helps us to Do the Right Thing.
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