Do the Right Thing: The Criterion Collection
Do the Right Thing dropped onto cineplexes like an atom bomb in 1989, opening the financial floodgates for a new wave of black films. But to the devil with economics and social context! Most important, it's very nearly the only film about race to avoid sermonizing, precious moments and/or thematic deck-stacking. Instead, the movie's sexy, funny, tightly constructed and shockingly balanced in its empathy for (and condemnation of) all racial viewpoints. It follows 24 hours in the lives of nearly two dozen broadly sketched characters in New-York's Bed-Stuy neighborhood; when Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) notices that pizza man Sal (Danny Aiello, never better) doesn't have any African-Americans on his "Wall of Fame," he tries to "boycott [Sal's] fat pasta ass" a minor grievance that escalates over the course of the day, drawing all the film's characters into a full-fledged race riot. But that broad plot sketch fails to capture what makes Do the Right Thing so extraordinary. The dialogue's extremely funny filled with arguments that defy the normal trappings of the "message film" because winners are seldom if ever declared. And most of the (goofily named) characters generate a surprising amount of empathy, even when they're saying unlikable things. Ernest Dickerson's vibrant, complex cinematography is practically a character in the film; his use of light and color to convey sweltering heat is among the film's greatest pleasures. And the score by Bill Lee (featuring Branford Marsalis) has a tender, mournful sound that contrasts nicely with Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," which blisters throughout the film. The Criterion two-disc edition is like holy writ, with far more extras than you can enjoy in one sitting, including a commentary with Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas, and actress Joie Lee; a video introduction by Lee; the 60-minute documentary "The Making of Do the Right Thing"; Lee and line producer Jon Kilik revisiting the Bed-Stuy locations; Public Enemy's music video for "Fight the Power," directed by Lee; a 1989 Cannes Film Festival press conference with Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Richard Edson; storyboards; a video interview with editor Barry Brown; and a theatrical trailer and TV spots. Best of all? Spike's videotaped behind-the-scenes footage including rehearsals, set construction, and wrap party. Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby 2.0 Surround. Dual-DVD keep-case.