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DVD - cover art
"Do the Right Thing"
"Do the Right Thing" DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine

Guide Rating -  

Tagline: "It's the hottest day of the summer. You can do nothing, you can do something, or you can..."

Length: 120 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989) is a great film, and it is great because of the difficult questions it asks. It's not a simplistic, feel-good Hollywood movie that tells you the answers—it forces you to draw them out of your own heart, mind, and beliefs. Lee's earnest, daring vision makes "Do the Right Thing" an emotionally and intellectually powerful film, probably the best I've ever seen about race relations in America. But don't get me wrong—it's not a boring political tract. And although it has a tragic, violent climax, it's often entertaining with many comic moments, interesting characters, an arresting visual style, and lots of music.

My admiration for and understanding of "Do the Right Thing" grew enormously when I watched it recently on the Criterion Collection DVD, and the accompanying special features provided me with an experience akin to a film-school seminar on the movie. I found the audio commentary track by writer-director Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas, and actress Joie Lee (Spike's sister) to alone be worth the price of the two-disc DVD set.

"Do the Right Thing" chronicles a 24-hour period on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Much of the story centers around a pizzeria owned and operated by an Italian-American named Sal (Danny Aiello), but most of the people who live on the street are poor blacks, including Mookie (Spike Lee), who works for Sal as a deliveryman. When one of the young African American residents complains to Sal that no photos of black people hang on the walls of his pizzeria while another plays a boom box very loud, a shouting match breaks out. Then racial slurs are exchanged, leading to murder and the pizzeria being burned down.

The film ends enigmatically with a pair of quotes, one by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other by Malcolm X. Many viewers have found these quotes to be contradictory, and there's quite a bit of discussion about this on the DVDs.

Disc Two contains a number of special features worth watching. My favorite is the press conference following the showing of the film at the Cannes Film Festival where Spike Lee and four of the actors answer questions posed by journalists. I also liked the documentary "The Making of 'Do the Right Thing'" because much of it focuses on the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood where the film was shot. Another good feature is "Behind the Scenes," which shows rehearsal footage. Watch for a moving reading by Danny Aiello. And there are some other worthwhile special features, most of which I've listed below.

Selected Special Features on the DVDs:

  • Two-Disc Set
  • Commentary by Director, Cinematographer, Production Designer, and Actress
  • Spike Lee Intro
  • Behind the Scenes Footage from Rehearsal to Wrap
  • Storyboards for the Riot Sequences
  • Documentary: "The Making of 'Do the Right Thing'" (60 min.)
  • Spike Lee and Line Producer Revisit Bed-Stuy Locations
  • Interview with Editor Barry Brown
  • 1989 Cannes Film Festival Press Conference
  • Public Enemy "Fight the Power" Music Video
  • Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
  • Spike's Last Word
  • Booklet Containing Roger Ebert Essay

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