Thursday, December 04, 2014
Rulebook Casefile: The Tricky Tone of Do the Right Thing
If this movie occasionally has “camera-as-hero”, it also has “hero-as-camera.” I’ve already linked to this excellent post about the movie from Matthew Dessem at “The Criterion Contraption”, but let me borrow his nice demonstration of this effect:
Ultimately, this movie takes place in Spike Lee’s head-space: it’s his impressionistic collage of thoughts about New York in the summer, and at times it feels more like a journal than a story: it’s not just the laundry lists of epithets, it’s the long roll-call of R&B acts, the montages of various ways of dealing with the heat, etc. Indeed, Lee did keep a free-ranging journal as he carried the movie from conception to debut, then published it as a book, and it’s great reading.
Needless to say, the stream-of-consciousness tone he creates is hard to pull off, but Lee succeeds by using brilliant tricks like the one above that whip us back and forth between objectivity and subjectivity. That’s one reason I compared this before to avant-garde docs like Man with a Movie Camera and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. We’re not always jumping from plot-point to plot-point, we’re sometimes just jumping from thought to thought.
So for screenwriters, I have bad news: this movie’s unique tone is sold to the audience using tricks that are only available to writer-directors, and would be hard to sell on the page if someone else was directing. This movie is visionary in a literal sense: Lee is using brilliant camera innovations to literally pivot us into the head of each character until their vision briefly becomes our own ...Hey, I think I just I just figured out why he says “A Spike Lee Joint”!
One last post on this movie coming up next week...