Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Do The Right Thing

Cinecism is having one of those wonderful mornings when you're having a good sort out, and you suddenly finda copy of Do the Right Thing that you'd entirely forgotten purchasing. For a mere £3 at that!

'Twas curious. Clearly a debut, I loved the rule-breaking style - the totally unexpected dance-credit sequence, the colours, the close-up racist tirades. But I obviously missed something - perhaps I'm just 22 years too late. I felt like it used to be ground-breaking

It felt like a movie with a message, but it's not entirely clear what that message was. The ambivalence was underlined by first the photos, then the quotes of Martin Luther King and Malcom X. Two figures I do not know in detail, but I know that broadly MLK represented peaceful resistance, and MX advocated violence.

We're not meant to sympathise with John Tuturro or the cops, I guess. But what are we to make of Mookie? He's our touchstone character, and one that seemingly gets on with everyone in the neighbourhood, and yet I didn't see the character progression which lead to chucking bins through windows? I guess ground down by Pino's racism, perhaps? But still. What's the motivation? Being a big ole pacifist I loved the Mayor, and grew to love Sal. But why did the riot happen? Just the heat? After an hour of Sal saying how much he loved his neighbourhood, and Buggin' Out failing to garner support for a boycott, where did all those other people come from? Were we just meant to think "it's very hot + this resentment was there underneath"?

At the same time, I feel there were some characters who had a good point to make about race relations, but they were painted as idiots. Buggin' Out has a perspective worth exploring - while it's petty in part to protest about someone else's hall of fame, and his mode of dealing with it unproductive; nevertheless, the lack* of a black-owned, black-run space was also acknowledged within the film (by the three men sitting by the road among others), and I agree that there is something unecessarily antagonistic about a single-race hall of fame in a multi-racial neighbourhood. It's counterbalanced by Love Radio's "WE LOVE ROLL CALL" of great black musicians. One of the smartest scenes in the film depicts Pino struggling with the blackness of his heroes - they're not really black, he argues weakly. When Buggin' Out declares "man, fuck gentrification" - it's a hostile scene, which shows him in a poor light, but that's not to say there are genuine problems with gentrification.

Even before Radio Raheem's martyrdom, I felt he was a sympathetic character. At the same time, while I've a suspicion the radio was meant to represent black agency or something, and that Fight the Power was an expression of his hidden inner soul, in practice? Playing loud music in public is just rude and objectionable.

Are we meant to be confused? Is that the message? "Race - oh darn, what a mess!" Are there just no easy answers?

I wouldn't normally look so closely at the morals of a movie if I'd been enjoying it too. I enjoyed it in parts, and as is always the risk with a portmanteau, some stories interested more than others. Mayor's heroism warmed my little hippy soul, and his winter-non-romance with Mother Sister was dead cute. I couldn't believe that Sal's diner actually functioned as a real shop - I wouldn't eat at a place constantly underscored by shouty point-scoring and squabbling from the crew.

The chief problem for me is the - what we'll call T-patter - gets old quickly. This is unjust in the extreme - for one thing, Spike Lee precedes and obviously inspires Tarantino; for another, academics have convincingly argued that Tarantino's white characters hide "black bodies", or however that article puts it. But I can't help how I feel - this script doesn't have QT's wit or charm, and I kept tuning out of the irritatingly circular dialogue. Perhaps my strong association of it with Tarantino triggers in me the expectation of something throwaway and fun, and I found its juxtaposition with a serious drama too disorienting. Pino reminds me of Nice Guy Eddy - but without the humour, he merely retains the irritance factor. And this very early scene was almost a film-breaker for me:
Sal: Pino, get a broom and sweep out front.
Pino: Vito, get a broom and sweep out front.
Vito: Huh?
Pino: Get a broom and sweep out front.
Vito: What?
Vito: See, Pop, it's just what I was telling ya, every time you tell Pino what to do, he tells me to do what you told him what to do.
It was this or Singing in the Rain...

Did like much of the music. At times, I felt the orchestral score was a bit slapped on, but the jazzier pieces (deriving from the song Summertime?) and pop tunes were great.

Two other thoughts:
  • I have been musing recently about "becoming black" or "becoming white". Pino sees himself as white, or whit-er than those around him but admires black culture; the Koreans defend their store by claiming they are black. In the past, "black" was used as this catchall category which included both the Jews and the Irish. An example from the 1850s -the Irish were often referred to as "Negroes turned inside out" and Negroes as "smoked Irish." Over time, these groups have "become" white. I still can't decide whether this is a step forward - at least we're more inclusive now! - or a step back - judging on appearance is very childish. It's probably just a step...
  • I expected death! In fact, this film is notable for having no guns, no knives, and only one murder.
  • Does Do The Right Thing qualify as a hood movie? If it does, it must be a very early one. I wrote a study of them two years back, investigating the trend from social debate ("Oh no! Look at the problems!") to entertainment ("Gonna shoot some people up!"), characterised by Boyz in the Hood (which I loved), Menace II Society (which I didn't see, but condemned all the same) and City of God, which struck me as the most offensive and objectionable film I'd ever seen. I chose to write the essay in part because I wanted to discuss depictions of violence, and partly because I was just so ANGRY about it.
  • As an early, pre-Boyz movie I'd warrant this was one of the more realistic. I was reminded of Bowling for Columbine, and Michael Moore's non-scientific juxtaposition of gun ownership and white paranoia about black youths. Because don't all black americans carry guns?! Shock! The only killing that goes on here is a case of police brutality. Good choice.
In all? Rather nihilistic, rather confusing, rather forgetteable. Pity.

*does Love Radio count, though?
becoming white quote:
Another perspective:


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