Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Steven picked this a couple weeks back for his #33, and between his write-up and commenter Damon Matthew's point about how Spike Lee "piles up the oily rags and lets the spontaneous combustion take place," I think this remarkable X-ray of a race riot has been pretty well covered here. Woo hoo, day off for me!
What has always particularly attracted me is its visceral energy. As Steven alluded to, there's actually a good deal of easygoing camaraderie among the various residents and players of the Bedford-Stuyvesant block in Brooklyn where it's set, but there's an inevitable amount of tension there as well. Working that friction with attention to the small details adds up to a very big, very complex story with a lot of fascinating reverberations.
I think it's far and away the best picture by Spike Lee, who more often seems to me done in by his own ambitions, particularly in Malcolm X and When the Levees Broke, the first four-hour Katrina documentary (I haven't seen the second one yet). The documentary has moments of great power, mostly when Lee steps away and lets people tell their stories, but I thought there was also the usual unfortunate tendency for Lee to step all over himself and his subject.
The clip from Do the Right Thing that I picked has always stood out to me as one of the picture's most memorable moments, a point when stumbling attempts to communicate across the racial divides suddenly modulate into ludicrous explosions of vitriol, which are shot dead-on almost like interviews from local TV news. I think Lee is very sharp here in showing the universality of racism, the comic energy that can motivate it nearly as much as the seething resentments, and how plain silly it would be if it didn't have such deadly consequences.
"It's cheap! I got good price for you, Mayor Kochie, 'How I'm doing?' chocolate-egg-cream-drinking, bagel-and-lox, B'nai B'rith, Jew asshole." [video deleted]
Phil #28: Fargo (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1996) (scroll down)
Steven #28: Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959)
I am really overdue to look at Fargo again. I saw it when it was new, it left me a little underwhelmed, and I just haven't got back to it yet. It definitely has its partisans and I suspect I'm going to like it more the next time. I've never seen Fires on the Plain though I've read about it from time to time and it sounds great, in a somewhat hard-to-take kind of way. Another one I'm getting to and looking forward to. These kinds of relative obscurities are one of my favorite parts of exercises like this. (For those who actually wanted to read about Do the Right Thing, here's Steven's review and here's a piece I wrote.)