Tag Archives: social justice

Film Favorites: Do the Right Thing


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Both the initial reason why Spike Lee is a household name and one of the most controversial films of all time, Do the Right Thing is a masterwork of undying tension and resistance, and one of the greatest films of the past 30 years about the very feeling abyss of inner city life. It’s a truly startling and affecting portrait of the simmering everyday hell of lives not lived, an apocalypse that just happens to resemble a Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York during the late 1980s and early 1990s. And more than anything, it’s a film which genuinely reveals and honestly understands the state of race relations in the United States at its time like no other.  Like most great films, Do the Right Thing exists in shades of grey, in the blind spots, and it pries them right open until we’re suffocated by them. It isn’t preachy, and it doesn’t give any answers, nor does it act like it could if it wanted to. It simply sets you down in the trenches of this neighborhood and lets the characters interact with each other, telling a story  brutally honest and completely free of melodrama or manipulation, all the while being clinically aware of its own distance from the subject matter it wished to depict. Watching Do the Right Thing is frustrating and aggravating, a breathless gasp of an experience that really causes one to sit back, as much a plaintive sigh as a shriek into the blistering day. It understands a certain world, our world, and it makes that world something to “feel”. The day depicted in the film isn’t one that the residents of this neighborhood will ever forget, and Lee, with his biting insight and seemingly preternatural understanding of the formal mechanics of film, makes sure we won’t either. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Preface: Now that I’ve finally decided to go “old” with the blog, I’m doing it in style with not just a regular “old” film, but two, and two that have ripened with age. For this week’s Midnight Screenings, the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, ’60s, ’50s, and ’40s wouldn’t do. I’m taking it back to two of the granddaddy’s of filmmaking from the early ’30s, two of the earliest “talkies” and two supreme influences on Midnight Cinema from a time where films could be more openly playful and subversive as filmmakers were still trying to prod and poke at the medium to expose its limits and possibilities.

One of the most controversial films made during pre-Code era Hollywood, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang appears shockingly modern viewed from 2014. It’s blunt, direct, and forthright about its, admittedly very obvious, message, and from its implicatory title to its haunted fade to black it makes no bones about what was then, and still is today, a significant issue with a justice system that favors harsh abuse over human rights. The movie plays things scruffily and with a hound-dog broadness, perhaps for the best; the freed-from-the-shackles primal qualities afford the film a harshness and a blunt edge giving way to a simply told but severely felt indictment of the American justice system. The film, released in 1932 just before the Hays Code, breathes new life into that eternally soulless void of a garishly emotive genre of filmmaking: the message movie. Continue reading