Saturday, April 10, 2010

1989: Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)

1989: Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee)
Spike's an interesting director.  So much energy and pretty damn prolific.  I can't say I've loved every one of his films, but there's a passion that comes through in his work that's pretty infectious. 

He's versatile, a major risk-taker, and someone that can do comedy just as well as drama.  And when it comes to blending genres, he's about as fearless as they come.  

Do the Right Thing is one of my favorite of all his films.  The way it juxtaposes comedy and drama is as powerful as it is unsettling.  In other words, the drama hits hard, and the comedy is laugh out loud funny.  There's a real verve to the music, to the style, to the writing, and to the colors.  It has heart, gets at a few issues, but it also entertains. And Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" is one of American independent cinema's most iconic moments.  A fun and powerful work from Spike.   

Other contenders for 1989: I still have some titles to see.  These include Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of Sadness, Abbas Kiarostami's Homework, Jane Campion's Sweetie, Monte Hellman's Iguana, Jacques Rivette's Gang of Four, Robert Kramer's Route One USA, Jean-Claude Brisseau's Noce blanche, Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, and Paul Mazursky's Enemies: A Love Story.  From this year, I really like Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train.  I love Nanni Moretti's Palombella rossa and Brian De Palma's Casualties of War.  And my closest runner-up is Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors.

1/1/11 I watched Steve Kloves' The Fabulous Baker Boys.  Kloves can write, and at times, his writing is so sharp that I felt like I was watching some of the best American romantic comedies from the thirties updated for the next generations.  Grusin gets in the way at times.  His music's a bit overbearing.  Still, Kloves gives Pfeiffer one of her greatest roles, and she comes through excellently. 

2/17/11 I watched Michael Moore's Roger & Me.  Moore is an entertainer and like Sacha Baron Cohen, a good deal of his entertainment value comes from his ability to take risks and push the envelope with other people.  He's not subtle, and points off for rarely presenting all sides of the picture, but he's an effective muckraker.  And certainly a more than competent filmmaker.  

4/8/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: Fight the Power: Protest in Film.  Although I think Cousins tries to cover too much ground in each episode, I appreciated his coverage of Russian cinema, Chinese cinema, Lynch, Spike Lee, and particularly of John Sayles. 

11/10/16 I watched Eddie Murphy's Harlem Nights.  The first time I have seen this since I saw it in the theater upon its release.  It's funny and clever and Murphy proves himself a very capable filmmaker.

4/14/18 I watched Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth.  I thought I had seen Hartley's debut, but it turns out I never had.  It has to be one of the most stylistically assured debuts in the history of cinema.  Hartley's films are heavily musical, rhythmic in their mood and editing, but not in the way Hollywood uses wall-to-wall music to provide most of the surface emotion.  Hartley's music is his primary tool for carving out his special cinematic world.  While there may be no known adjective, it is as distinctly "Hartleyian" as David's world is Lynchian.  The acting, the locations, the framing, the almost Bressonian dialogue delivery combined with 80's Godard unique feel for the ellipsis immediately announce a very singular auteur.  This is a startling debut.  

12/30/19 I rewatched Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors.  I have never been one to spend a lot of time rewatching films unless I was looking for something specific for research or teaching purposes.  Plus there is still so much I haven't seen yet.  And I typically like the joy of discovery more than the act of rediscovery.  

Rediscovery to me is like having to edit an early draft of something that you have written.  You are forced to do battle of sorts putting original thoughts, instincts and emotions in question.  

It's probably been at least twenty years since I last saw this Allen film.  I was a fan, felt it was one of his best, but most likely never recorded my feelings or thoughts anywhere.  Rewatching it I can see some of what I probably admired.  It has narrative complexity, often and fairly effortlessly moving through different periods of time.  It has a playfulness as it walks through some decently grim terrain.  And it has Woody's talent for being very personal, very autobiographical, even very critical, without ever seeming maudlin or heavy-handed.   

Watching it now I probably like it a little less.  I wish it had less genre elements, the Anjelica Huston sub-plot for instance.  And I wish it were even more personal, less protected and "palatable" by Woody's narrative showmanship and penchant for humor.

11/10/21 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Central Park.  A lesser Wiseman, almost seems (understandably) like he needed to be slightly less invested and go somewhere lighter after making Near Death.  

11/14/21 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Near Death.  A film that makes the case that it is Wiseman's fearlessness that could be his greatest asset, even more than his intelligence, his rigor or his patience.  Once again, because of Wiseman's approach, the impact often hinges greatly on the ability of the subjects he selects to speak clearly and articulate in a manner that is compelling and engaging.  These speeches are the music of his films and the doctors and nurses in particular in this work are responsible for some amazing passages.  This work also examines the staff's feelings about their profession in a way I have not seen before in a Wiseman film.  

12/8/21 I watched Jacques Rivette's Gang of Four.  Rivette proves once again that he is extraordinary with actors, especially females.  His strange hybrids of Hitchcockian mystery and contemporary character study feel pretty mannered.  I appreciate them but I rarely feel them.

12/16/21 I watched Jane Campion's Sweetie.  I have always liked what I have seen from Campion, whether it's An Angel at My Table, Holy Smoke!, In the Cut or The Piano.  And I am always intrigued to see how those that I admire started.  Sweetie, Campion's first feature, has that first feature power, an unhinged creativity and fearlessness born from not knowing if the opportunity will ever come again.  The film has that late 80's bold, indy vibe that dared to go into potentially offensive subject matter and a willingness to show images that perhaps had never shown up on film before, like a woman farting.  It also has that late 80s mannered indy style such as bold colors, odd lensing and rough editing, elements that were abound from Almodovar to Van Sant, from Hartley to the Coens.  What struck me most, and what I don't recall as vividly from some of Campion's other work, is the humor here.  All in all, an impressive first feature even if it's not the type of film I'm as into as I was when I was younger.  

1/17/22 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Homework.  While a bit more repetitive than some of my favorite work by the Iranian, it proves yet again that his films seek the same redemptive and transcendent effect of Dreyer, Ozu and Bresson, the three filmmakers Schrader singles out in Transcendental Style in Film.  

1/17/22 I watched Guy Girard's David Lynch, Don't Look at Me.  Most memorable was hearing Lynch talking about a duck's eyeballs and listening to him discuss Kafka.  

1/20/22 I watched Patricia Mazuy's Peaux de vaches.  An extremely interesting first feature that impresses with its toughness and an ability throughout to subvert expectations of where a certain scene is headed.  It is this concoction of elements that seem recognizable - the physicality of Cassavetes, the ominous tone of The Night of the Hunter and Out of the Blue and the feel for provincial life reminiscent of Pialat.  While it has all of this.  To Mazuy's credit, in the end it feels like none of the above.  

2/11/24 I watched Wendell B Harris Jr's Chameleon Street.  Formally inventive and unafraid to confront race relations in this country (even if perhaps its most searing moment occurs during the end credits), it is impressive even if not fully engrossing or moving on an emotional level.   


  1. "Put some more mozarella on that mother fuck and shit!"

    That and a number of other lines are regularly woven into the movie reference dialogue I engage with my youngest brother and some friends. This is a marvelous choice for the #1 position, and it's easily Spike Lee's best film. MALCOLM X is #2.

    My Own #1 Film of 1989:

    Henry V (Branagh)


    The Cook, the Thief His Wife and Her Lover (Branagh; UK)
    Santa Sange (Jodorowsky; Mexico/Italy)
    Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford; USA)
    A Village Romeo and Juliet (Weigl; W. Germany)
    Jesus of Montreal (Arcand; Canada)
    Field of Dreams (Robinson; USA)
    Dead Poets Society (Weir; USA)
    Do the Right Thing (Lee; USA)
    Crimes and Misdemeanors (Allen; USA)
    Glory (Zwick; USA)
    Last Exit to Brooklyn (Edel; USA)
    Creature Comforts (Park; UK)
    The Match Factory Girl (Kaurismaki; Finland)
    My Left Foot (Sheridan; Ireland/UK)
    Monsieur Hire (Leconte; France)
    Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Almodovar; Spain)
    Sweetie (Campion; New Zealand)
    The Mahabarata (Brook; UK)
    Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant; USA)
    Born on the Fourth of July (Stone; USA)
    Camille Claudel (Nuytten; France)

    Needless to say this is the greatest year of the 80's, (1987 is very close) and in fact of all-time.

    Greenaway's THE COOK THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER came within a hair of the Branagh. It's a tough call, but a number of others here are masterworks, including one of the greatest of all Canadian films, one of teh greatets opera film by Peter Weigl, one of teh greatest sports films ever made, one of Woody Allen's best films ever, and one of the greatest of the 'inspiring school teacher' genre.

  2. A tough year for me to call on this one, as there are two films that I think are magnificent - Woody Allen's CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and Kenneth Branagh's HENRY V. I went with Henry V the first time around and I will stick with that now, but I still think that Crimes is my favorite Allen film.

    Henry V is unbelievably good, Jeffrey, check it out as soon as you can. Branagh does an amazing job acting and directing.

  3. Sam, that's a great line! Made me laugh, again.

    I still need to see your top pick, as well as the Jodorowsky, Beresford, Weigl, and Arcand films you mention.

    I haven't seen DEAD POETS SOCIETY nor FIELD OF DREAMS in forever so would need to revisit them before really commenting. As for the Greenaway, I did like it the one time I saw it, although a little less than the ones I mentioned.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great having you here!

  4. Dave, I definitely will check HENRY V out. It sounds excellent!

    Thanks, Dave. Always great hearing from you here!

  5. Like you I love some of Lee's work and others I can do without. Either way he is one of the most interesting filmmakers today/ Myself, I am going to have to go with "Crime and Misdemeanors", one of Woody's masterpieces, a terrific blend of drama and comedy.

    # 1 Crime and Misdemeanors

    Runner ups
    Born on the 4th of July
    My Left Foot
    Do the Right Thing
    When Harry Met Sally
    Dead Poets Society
    Camille Claudel
    Driving Miss Daisy

  6. John, great to hear from you! I completely agree with you about the Lee and Allen films.

    From your list, I need to revisit BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. It's been too long since I've seen them to know where they'd place on this list. I also still need to see MY LEFT FOOT and CAMILLE CLAUDEL.

    Thanks, John. Always great having you here!