Friday, November 14, 2008

The story of life is this: Static. One hand is always fighting the other hand...

Although the quote above is an interpretation of the fantastically dark monologue given by Robert Mitchum, the interpretation in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing is a little more of a social statement. It's one that rings true. Life is very static at times, when you let emotions and prejudice get the best of you. Now more than ever, with history in this country changing. In a Spike Lee world, especially the one day that Do The Right Thing takes place, a black president seemed highly unlikely. But I digress. This film is about love and hate. It's about every man's struggle to find their niche in society and it shows that neither violence or silence is the answer. It's very ambiguous. It's very static. It's life.

My first knowledge of the film was that of my father, who grew up in a tough neighborhood of New York City after he came to the U.S.A. from Greece. He loves the movie and especially the line "You da man. No, you da man." It seems silly that this is how I heard of one of the greatest cultural movies in Spike Lee's inventory and in any filmography. But, alas, that's how you learn I guess. It wouldn't be until my freshman year of college at La Salle University until I actually would see the full film. It was for my "Man Hands" class. Yes, my professor had man hands and a growling voice, yet she had some great insights on things. We had to watch this film for whatever reason and I am glad for it.

What does Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing have to do with a white, suburban youth? Well not a whole lot I guess, but maybe more than I thought then. In hindsight, it's a very ambiguous film. "Da Mayor" wants you to "Do the right thing" but the right thing is never really identified. Some people see when Mookie at the climax of the film lobs a trashcan into Sal's Pizzeria's window as him doing the right thing: standing up against the white opressor. However, this is a very common misconception. Many of the characters disapprove of the riot post Radio Raheim's loss. The quotes at the end from Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X contradict each other. Does this make the message then that one can not really do the right thing? Does it mean different circumstances lead to different outcomes? It's really the end of the film when Mookie and Sal make ammends that we see anyone doing the right thing. Well, whatever approach you take toward the themes and the characters decisions to do what they did, it all leads to that essential human element that predjudice is real in many of us, if not all of us. Hate is powerful, as is love. But that static element is something that hopefully one day we can move on from.

This film, in a bizarre, messed up kind of way, is very uplifting. I might be in the minority there, but to me seeing the struggle, the climactic explosion and the reactions to these events ends in a reconciliation. A very simple reconciliation, but it shows that the extremes can come together. That small glint of hope alone is enough.

Spike Lee joints are some of my favorite films. This was the gateway drug to his entire career. Films like Clockers, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, and Crooklyn all have similar themes and amazing commentaries. Even his more mainstream films like 25th Hour or Inside Man do bridge the gap between his social commentaries and just plain entertaining storytelling. It's this aspect of film that I really appreciate. The ability to get a message across and have an ideology but present it in an entertaining way without it taking away the core message. Do The Right Thing is one perfect example of this kind of filmmaking and was one of the first films of this style that I truly loved.

1. Cinema Paradiso (1988) dr. Giuseppe Tornatore
2. Rushmore (1998) dr. Wes Anderson
3. Jurassic Park (1993) dr. Steven Speilberg
4. It's A Wonderful Life (1946) dr. Frank Capra
5. Trust (1990) dr. Hal Hartley
6. Donnie Darko (2001) dr. Richard Kelly
7. On The Waterfront (1954) dr. Elia Kazan
8. Monty Python & The Holy Grail (1975) dr. Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
9. Do The Right Thing (1989) dr. Spike Lee

Up Next: Stop Making Sense (1984) dr. Johnathan Demme

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