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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Racism > Do The Right Thing – 20th Anniversary Edition (1989/Universal DVD)

Do The Right Thing – 20th Anniversary Edition (1989/Universal DVD)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B     Film: B



After Spike Lee broke onto the independent film scene with She’s Gotta Have It (1986), he followed up with the mixed School Daze (1988), many wondered if his career was over.  In one of the smartest moves he ever made, he dared to take on racism in the middle of Reagan-era apathy in Do The Right Thing (1989), a film that shocked the sleeping filmmaking establishment and became the peak of the Black New Wave.


Using the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood (on location) as microcosm for the country in conflict, Lee plays Mookie, a pizza delivery guy who works for a somewhat disgruntled and cynical boss (Danny Aiello) who has the only pizzeria in the neighborhood and is an oddball in what is absolutely a black neighborhood.  It is the hottest day of the summer (lighting and an advanced use of color pallet by Lee and Director of Photography Ernest Dickerson) communicates tensions beyond the screenplay and beings the visual odyssey of telling the story.


From the opening set to Public Enemies’ Fight The Power with Rosie Perez (who also gives one of the most interesting performances in the film) to the almost expressionistic acting throughout, the film has not dated at all, though many things also remain unresolved in Lee’s problematic mix of The Black Experience and (thanks to JG for pointing this out) New York School of filmmaking that is contradictory and awkward.  This results in Lee saying things only he knows the meaning of and this would eventually catch up with him starting with Malcolm X and going well into his loss of Dickerson as cameraman, as he moved on to directing.


However, the film covers a wide range of emotions, conflicts and unspoken problems.  What the film does have to say it that racism was now worse in the 1980s and the idea that The Civil Rights Movement allowed all African Americans to advance is an ugly myth; less obvious at the time.  That people are likely to get angry about racism instead of working it out too often and that minority life is not valued less that white-owned property, one of the ugliest unspoken tenants of the Reagan Era.  The film may not go into the ideology, but it sure lets loose on it.


Of course, the film turned out to be prophetic as things had to become nightmare worse before Obama became president and the U.S. was forced to grow up in what is hopefully a permanent development.  However, in its time, the film was so bold that you need at least all the supplements here to understand why and they still somehow seem insufficient.  This would begin Lee’s best trilogy of films (followed by Mo’ Better Blues and Jungle Fever) and is very much worth revisiting again.  If you can get past Lee’s off-screen antics, you can see what a key film it really is.



The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image has the same impressive transfer the Criterion Collection DVD (unreviewed) offered, with fine detail, color and depth, especially for the format.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also impressive and a fine upgrade from the theatrical Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) analog mix in one of the few such upgrades that worked.  For some reason, SR upgrades tend to get very badly botched.  I still also enjoyed the PCM 16/48 2.0 Stereo tracks with Pro Logic surrounds the Criterion DVD had that are absent here, but this is a good mix.  We did not get the Blu-ray version, but hear it is even a better performer.


Extras include two filmmaker commentaries, a new one with Lee and older one with Lee, his sister Joie, Dickerson and Production Designer Wynn Thomas.  You also get deleted & extended scenes and featurette Do The Right Thing: 20 Years Later on DVD 1.  DVD 2 adds a behind the scenes piece, original Making Do The Right Thing documentary, interview with Editor Barry Brown, The Riot Sequence and Cannes, 1989.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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