Sunday 1 June 2014

May Blind Spot- Do the Right Thing

        Once again, I have ended up choosing a rather important film that talks about a lot of crucial social issues. Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is a film about racial tension which is presented to us in a vibrant, pop-culture filled package that just explodes at the end. It's not a film that I loved but I certainly appreciated it for what it was and what it was trying to say.

        The film takes place chiefly over one really, really hot summer day in a neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The neighbourhood mostly has African-American residents with the exception of Sal's Famous Pizzeria, which is run by Sal and his two sons, who are all Italian-Americans, and a grocery store run by a Korean family. Mookie is a young man who works at Sal's and is the link between them and the neighbourhood, which is full of colourful characters from the three 'Corner Men' to an elderly drunk called Da Mayor and from the "Fight The Power"-loving Radio Raheem to a mentally-challenged man called Smiley who goes around trying to sell pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. We follow these characters around throughout the day and the simmering racial conflict between them that is heightened due to the heat, all leading to a final and brutal confrontation.

         As I wrote above, this is not a film that I loved. The biggest reason for that was because I found it to be too loud. From the way people talked to the music to the colours to the camera angles- it was occasionally jarring for me while watching it. But this is also a plus for the movie and why I appreciated it more after watching it because all of these do serve a purpose in the progression of the story. It is a very rich film of course. The myriad characters are all established slowly and completely. No one is one-dimensional and everyone is very human. There are no villains or saints in it. Even Da Mayor who more or less functions like the voice of reason is a man with flaws. Same goes for the aimless but affable Mookie who "does the right thing" at the end but that too isn't something simple. 

          It's a complicated, political movie that made me realise how sheltered my life has been so far. Don't get me wrong, India is a country full of varied cultures and traditions and people but at the same time, all of us do have a thread that binds us. I have been lucky enough to never have witnessed any serious regional or religious disputes that do take place here and even when I lived in the UAE, I was mostly around fellow Indians. Also though I am part of a minority group in India, I have never really experienced any blatant discrimination. I say all this because I had to really try to empathise with the characters and their actions in the film. I don't know how much that affected my viewing of the film but it was enough for me to mull it over a number of days.

           The acting in this film isn't its strong suit. Apart from Danny Aiello who rightly got nominated for an Oscar for his performance, none of the actors were really that great. I will say though, Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the local radio jockey called Mister Señor Love Daddy, reaffirms in this film the fact that his is one of the greatest movie voices of all time. I could listen to him all day.

          The film's cinematography was very vibrant. I especially loved the bright red wall in front of which the 'Corner Men' sat. And the shot above that almost made me laugh out loud. Music of course plays a very crucial part in the film. From the opening credits itself, where Rosie Perez dances to Public Enemy's "Fight The Power", a song that is played over and over again, to that really wonderful section when Love Daddy lists down all the great African-American musicians, it is a pervasive element in the film. Radio Raheem's "Love Vs Hate" speech was a rather unexpected movie reference that kind of caught me off-guard but I totally loved it.

         Another thing that I thought was brilliant about it is that it's basically an Aristotelian tragedy. I admit I did not think of this on my own, which is kind of terrible because I just learnt about this stuff a couple of months back. The film follows the unities of time and place in the strictest sense. The unity of action is not completely discernible, especially because two-thirds of the movie is spent trying to establish so many characters that it almost seems scattered but it all comes together at the end. As for the figure of the tragic hero, I feel it applies more to Sal than Mookie or any of the other characters though no one comes off unscathed by what transpires.

        Do the Right Thing is not one of my favourite blind spot entries so far but it is one of the more significant ones, both for its content and its bold, cinematic look. I think movies like La Haine could have never been made without it paving the way. It is also a really clever film where everything has a part to play, from a shoe to a photograph, but that's not to say that it is a film that leaves you with all the answers at the end.