Home Video Hovel: Do the Right Thing, by David Bax

We’re all familiar with the movie trope of the dance party ending (I’m sure that, like me, everyone else thinks first of Dan Aykroyd shimmying to “Land of a Thousand Dances” at the end of The Great Outdoors, right?). But with his masterpiece Do the Right Thing, out now from Criterion in a brand new deluxe Blu-ray edition, Spike Lee inverted the idea by kicking things off with a dance party of one. Where the standard version is a means of celebration, Rosie Perez’s solo pumping and flexing is an embodiment of pure ferocity. Set to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Perez’s body and face transmit anger, determination and resolve. To those of us from a different world, we’d have to watch the movie to find out what those feelings were all about. In retrospect, Lee, Perez and Public Enemy told us everything in the first five minutes.

Set over the course of the hottest day of the year, in case you somehow haven’t seen the movie before, Do the Right Thing charts the coming and goings of the denizens of a Brooklyn block, arranged loosely around the story of Mookie (Lee), pizza delivery guy at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, owned by Sal (Danny Aiello) and his sons (John Turturro and Richard Edson).

Lee shot on a real Brooklyn street but painted, dressed, framed and blocked every setup like it was a stage. The seamless yet wildly varied blend of realism and theatricality is what makes Do the Right Thing indelible. Lee may have been young but perhaps the confidence of youth is what it takes to pull off the movie’s delicate high-wire act so perfectly and with such bravado. Lee is dealing with fragile issues yet careening through them with a carefully orchestrated display of recklessness. He’s juggling with Fabergé eggs and he never drops one.

Do the Right Thing‘s title comes from advice given by Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) to Mookie. And though Mookie’s insists that he’s “got it,” neither he nor almost anyone else in the movie–save Da Mayor, Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) and maybe Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson)–actually does the right thing. They let their tempers (and the temperature) get the best of them. Everyone wrongs someone and everyone is wronged and most of them have pretty persuasive arguments for their side of the equation. It all builds to tragedy and fury. And yet Lee is far too keyed-in to the human condition to rest on easy, lazy, “can’t we all just get along” bromides. Lots of people have to make lots of wrong choices for things to get this bad and yet things being this bad is a commonplace situation. Sometimes it’s important to learn how best to express yourself and sometimes it’s important to learn how best to listen. The right thing is just to learn.

Criterion’s new 4K restoration, approved by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, is brilliant in every sense of the word. The richness of the color makes the day’s heat more immediately felt. And the 5.1 audio certainly brings out the force and the nuance of the Public Enemy on the soundtrack, not to mention Bill Lee’s restlessly bopping score.

Special features include a 1995 commentary with Lee, Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and Joie Lee, who plays Jade, Mookie’s sister; an introduction by Lee; a 1989 making-of documentary; new interviews with costume designer Ruth E. Carter, New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., writer Nelson George and filmmaker Darnell Martin; a Public Enemy music video; a Cannes press conference; deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes footage; and more.

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