As I said last time, I have no problem whatsoever with the “unrealistic” racism montage, which clearly takes place in those characters’ heads, but we transition into that scene from a seemingly objective scene between Mookie and Pino that always annoys me because it breaks a rule that it shouldn’t break (and doesn’t need to break.)
After getting called a nigger one too many times by Pino, Mookie calls him aside for a talk. Right there, it feels a little phony that Pino would agree to this talk, but I’ll go along with it. The bigger problem is in the dialogue:
- Mookie: Can I talk to you for a second?
- Pino: What?
- Mookie: Pino, Who’s your favorite basketball player?
- Pino: Magic Johnson.
- Mookie: Who’s your favorite movie star?
- Pino: Eddie Murphy.
- Mookie: Who’s your favorite rock star?
- [Pino hesitates]
- Mookie: Prince. You’re a Prince freak.
- Pino: Boss. Bruce.
- Mookie: Prince.
- Pino: Bruuucce.
- Mookie: Pino, all you talk about is nigger this and nigger that and your favorite people are so-called niggers.
- Pino: It’s different. Magic, Eddie, Prince, they’re not niggers. I mean, they’re not black. I mean ... let me explain myself. They’re not really black. I mean, they’re black, but they’re not *really* black. They’re more than black. It's different.
I talked last time about Lee’s published journal of the writing of the movie, and the brilliant tricks he uses to transfer that feeling of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming to the screen, but this can also be a problem, as this scene makes clear. Sure enough, in the journal, you can see him arrive at the idea for this scene and jot it down in real time, but in this case, the idea became overly didactic onscreen. Lee-as-writer is dumbing-down the character of Pino in order to make the point he wants to make.
“I wouldn’t say this.” Of course, actor Jon Turturro also could have made the same protestation to Lee, and Lee probably would have listened: both the book and the DVD fearutes make it clear that Aiello kept standing up for his character Sal and asking for dialogue tweaks, some of which Lee conceded and some he didn’t, and they both agreed that the final movie benefited as a result . But Aiello was a veteran actor and Turturro was just starting out, so he was less likely to push back, and this scene suffered as a result, allowing Pino to become a straw man.
That’s frustrating, because this scene could have vastly improved by a small tweak. Here’s my humble rewrite:
- Mookie: Hey Pino, Who's your favorite basketball player?
- Pino hesitates before answering, suspecting a trap, but Mookie pounces on the hesitation…
- Mookie: I’ll tell you: Magic Johnson. Who’s your favorite movie star? Eddie Murphy. Who’s your favorite rock star? Prince.
- Pino (jumps in, unconvincingly): No, Bruce! Bruuucce.
- Mookie (scoffs): All you talk about is nigger this and nigger that and your favorite people are so-called niggers.
- Pino: Fuck that. They’re not niggers. You can tell just by looking at them.
- Mookie laughs in genuine amusement.
Just let each character make his own point, rather than tricking some other character into making it for him. That’s one trap that never really works off-screen, so it shouldn’t work onscreen either.