Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do the Right Thing ( 1989 ) : portrait of a riot

*Spike Lee*1989*115m*

The film culminates in a riot in which a black American is killed by the police and an Italian owned shop is burnt down in the aftermath.

It is not necessarily about interracial tensions in one corner of the globe but a sociological study of  hatred which gets  organised across groups of individuals separated by colour, caste, status or language. Almost anything can serve as an occassion or excuse for such behaviour which is a kind of virulent eruption which is as recurrent a phenomenon in this country as in America.

The black neighbourhood depicted does not seem to be exceptionally disturbed and the interracial tensions ( there is a Korean shop also across the street ) seem to be quite contained till a spark escalates events that lead to a full fledged riot with water cannons in operation in the fury of mob and police violence.

A beautifully enacted and thoroughly gripping film which doesn't let your attention flag even for a moment. The film does not particularly represent black anger against racial discrimination since the Italian pizzeria owner is shown in a more sympathetic light. The mood of the film is sad rather than angry. However it does give us a brilliantly etched, detailed and utterly realistic close-up of the  life and minds of the black community in a particular stratum, and the way they come to grips with their past and present. It seems all  too real, natural, understandable and yet very sad as the destiny and karma of human beings everywhere. The film ends with counterpoised quotes and portraits Martin Luther King, advocating the Christian ethic, and another from Malcolm X, stating the inevitability of violence in the interest of securing justice.

Roger Ebert's Essay for the Criterion Collection


Literary Dreamer said...

Was just going to recommend that you read Ebert's review of that film in his "Great Movies" section, but you already have it linked. I think the great thing about Do the Right Thing is that it has no answers to racial violence, or why it occurs. Anything can set it off in anyone. In fact, there was more racial tension with the Korean people across the street, but they are left alone. Why?

Interestingly enough, the great movie Ebert wrote about this week is another Spike Lee "joint," The 25th Hour.

S. M. Rana said...


Joint is right! The film has that raw, no-nonsense earthiness, which I am sure would come off even more forcefully to some-one nearer in culture and dialect to the events narrated. It has that quality of cultural specificity which gives it the tremendous force and authenticity which it has.

I have 25th Hour in my vicinity and might get to it after the line-up of Avatar, Ikiru, A Bengali film, and Kurusawa's Lower Depths begins to clear.