Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand....
June 20, 2014 8:50 AM   Subscribe

The movie was shot over nine weeks in Brooklyn, entirely on Stuyvesant Avenue between Quincy Street and Lexington Avenue....

It was the third film from its director, who wrote the script in less than two weeks. The film was overtly political, dedicated as it was to Eleanor Bumpurs, and featuring music from one of America's most confrontational rap groups (previously), with a song that remains politically powerful even today.

The movie tells the story of of a neighborhood's festering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of the summer. It was told with vibrantly bright colors, realistic and goofily-named characters and dialogue, a supplementary "Greek chorus" of black men on the corner commenting on the day's events, and energetic editing and quasi-documentary, cocked camera angles. When it was released, some reviewers stated that the film could incite African-American audiences to riot. But other reviewers praised the film's forceful examination of American racism, and refusal to provide easy answers. One particularly prominent reviewer wrote that the film:

...comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.

Of course it is confused. Of course it wavers between middle-class values and street values. Of course it is not sure whether it believes in liberal pieties or militancy. Of course some of the characters are sympathetic and others are hateful. And of course some of the likable characters do bad things. Isn't that the way it is in America today? Anyone who walks into this film expecting answers is a dreamer or a fool. But anyone who leaves the movie with more intolerance than they walked in with wasn't paying attention

The movie has left its director with a reputation as a cinematic provocateur, but in the end, Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing was a critical and commercial success. It launched the careers of he careers of Martin Lawrence, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Giancarlo Esposito. It received two Academy Awards nominations (Best Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello and Best Original Screenplay) but no awards. It was not nominated for Best Motion Picture (that honor went to Driving Miss Daisy, a film allegedly about racial issues), and actress Kim Basinger famously said at the ceremony, "The best film of the year is not even nominated and it's 'Do the Right Thing.'" In 1999, Do The Right Thing was deemed to be "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, one of just five films to have that honor in their first year of eligibility.

This month (June 30th, to be exact) marks the 25th anniversary of Do The Right Thing in theaters, and in upcoming days film buffs (including the Academy that snubbed the movie) are celebrating with screenings all over the place, block parties, reminiscing, analysis and cast reunions. If you can't make it to a screening, you can watch the movie online at Hulu and at Google Play.

And one trivia fact: President and Mrs. Obama went to see Do The Right Thing on their first date.
posted by magstheaxe (19 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Easily my pick for the greatest American film of the last 25 years. I just re-watched it for the dozenth time about a year ago, and was still left completely breathless and bordering on tears. For this one film alone, Spike Lee gets a pass for life.
posted by incomple at 9:14 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Such an amazing film. Among its many virtues: While so much "black cinema" aped the kitchen-sink realism of naturalistic theater or the gritty fantasia of blaxploitation, Do The Right Thing presented its vision of racial realities through a lens of studio-musical stylization. Never has location shooting looked so much like a set, and the collision of hard reality and visual invention generates all kinds of sparks.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:21 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's funny the title for this FPP is the left hand/right hand thing. We were just discussing The Night of the Hunter in one of the horror threads, the movie from which the left hand/right hand thing is a loving (and well done) homage.

Here's a breakdown of the two scenes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:25 AM on June 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I LOVE Do The Right Thing. Love Spike Lee.

Didn't realize it was his third movie.

Thanks so much for this post!
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:36 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Brooklyn Academy of Music's film program will be screening it on June 29th, and Spike will be there beforehand with a talkback to the audience.

I live like ten blocks from the business offices of 40 Acres And A Mule and have a membership to BAM and I am SO there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

The highlight of Ebertfest this year was definitely a showing of a pristine 35mm print of Do the Right Thing on a giant screen with Mr. Lee giving a Q&A afterward. It's astounding at how assured and fully-matured his filmmaking skills were for only his third feature. He gave a captivating talk afterward too although it was a little disconcerting to see the almost sixty year old Lee after just spending two hours with his much younger image on screen.
posted by octothorpe at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2014

HOLY SHIT I so want to be there. It's tough with childcare etc but maybe I can make it work. Thanks for the info, EC!
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2014

I live like ten blocks from the business offices of 40 Acres And A Mule and have a membership to BAM and I am SO there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:37 PM on June 20

Empress, you have all my jealous!
posted by magstheaxe at 9:40 AM on June 20, 2014

Those cocked camera angles are known as Dutch Angles. Spike Lee's longtime cinematographer Ernest Dickerson went on to become a high profile television director, directing episodes of The Wire, Dexter, and The Walking Dead.
posted by cazoo at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sadly, the Los Angeles screening/Q&A is long sold-out, but there will be a standby queue. (For those interested, the standby lines at the Hammer tend to be insane, so getting there at least two hours early is your best recourse.)
posted by mykescipark at 9:57 AM on June 20, 2014

Twenty "D" Energizers
posted by porn in the woods at 10:19 AM on June 20, 2014

I'm surprised you wrote all that but didn't mention that Ruby Dee died nine days ago. Otherwise, great post.
posted by fungible at 10:59 AM on June 20, 2014

This just screened at the Brattle in Cambridge, which I either just now realized or forgot.

posted by pxe2000 at 11:12 AM on June 20, 2014

I'm surprised you wrote all that but didn't mention that Ruby Dee died nine days ago. Otherwise, great post.
posted by fungible at 1:59 PM on June 20

I thought there was already a post on that about Ms. Dee's passing in the blue?
posted by magstheaxe at 11:35 AM on June 20, 2014

I love this film. It gets quoted all the time in my house.

One criticism of the movie when it came out was that there was no drug use depicted (Da Mayor's alcoholism apparently didn't count). At the Cannes press conference, Spike responded by mentioning that a then-current Mike Nichols film, Working Girl, set on Wall Street, didn't have any drug use either, and nobody was calling Nichols out about it.
posted by goofyfoot at 6:39 PM on June 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Was at the late showing at BAM last night (somehow I got confused and missed the earlier one had the Q&A first), and Spike came out to say a few words first. Someone else had come out before him, though, to ask for a show of hands to see how many people were seeing it for the first time ever, and then how many people were seeing it for the first time on a big screen. When Spike came out, he remarked on that angle, saying that for those people who had only seen it on DVD - or, even worse, on an iPhone - "that's a SIN."

I even caught something new. You know how when Mookie throws the trash can through the window he first shouts "HATE!"? Okay - do you remember the one conversation he has with Radio Rakim earlier in the film, where Rakim shows off his "love" and "hate" brass knuckles, and Rakim has that speech about love and hate trying to fight for the world all the time, but that love would always ultimately win?

It struck me that Mookie shouting "hate" is him despairing that Radio Rakim was wrong and that hate ultimately won in this case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hah, Spike complained about people watching movies on their phones when we saw him talk after DTRT.
posted by octothorpe at 4:16 AM on July 1, 2014

« Older Why Spain Got KO'd   |   The Ebola Map Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments