Do the Right Thing: an Explosion from Within

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Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, one of history’s most culturally significant films, brings to light both past and present issues of racism and prejudice. The film explores realistic issues of race and relationships between the people living in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn on the most sweltering day of the year. Throughout the movie, the neighborhood’s people grow increasingly frustrated with each other as the temperatures continue to rise. Tensions soon boil over and eventually explode as a riot breaks out inside of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. The brutal altercation leads to the death of Radio Raheem, making him the victim of police brutality. Director Spike Lee uses realism to emphasize the tensions arising between the film’s characters by exploring different camera angles and shot techniques, and transforms the technical aspects of filmmaking to create a powerful art form. Such techniques used in Do the Right Thing include close-up shots and free ranging movements of the camera to intensify certain significant scenes. The wrestling scene between Sal’s sons, Pino and Vito, and the riot scene at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria are just two important scenes in which these camera movements and shots drastically affect the audience’s experience, thus enhancing the quality of the film.

The first time the audience is exposed to close-ups and a free ranging camera is when Pino, Sal’s eldest and racist son, calls his younger brother, Vito, into the back of their father’s Pizzeria. The next thing the viewers see is Pino with his arm wrapped around his brother’s neck as he wrestles his brother while Vito attempts to break loose. Lee decided to use a close-up of the action in order to intensify the altercation. As opposed to having the camera sit on a tripod or a stable surface at a distance, Lee opted to have the camera being hand-held for the purpose of getting up close and personal to the action. Also, by having the camera being hand-held, the bumpy movements allow the audience to feel like their eyes are the camera’s lens. The result is a slightly shaky camera that is focused at the brother’s faces. The resulting images are reminiscent of what one would see if he or she were watching a televised wrestling match. This same personal technique is used throughout the scene. As Pino tries to put Vito in his place, he explains that blacks and whites are not to be friends, and people of color are not to be trusted. Pino continues to explain to Vito that at the first possible chance, blacks will stab whites in the back. Pino is voicing an opinion that many would normally keep to themselves. By using these extreme techniques, Lee hopes to bring to light the still existent racial attitudes that many continue to hold. Vito then challenges his brother by questioning his negative experiences with the opposite race to which Pino replies by saying that none of what he claims has actually happened to him. As the characters continue to talk, they stand in extremely close proximity to one another and continuously shift their weight from left to right. The camera mimics this movement as a means of involving the audience. The characters are even slightly facing the camera, making it feel like he is actually talking to the viewers. These methods force the audience to feel like they are in the middle of the action. Spike Lee intentionally used these methods to make the issues of racism that exist in the world today feel all the more real to the audience. The plot continues to unfold and as the racial tensions escalade. David Bordwell addresses this emphasis on struggle in films. In “Intensified Continuity Visual Style in Contemporary American Film,” the writer discusses what he calls “continuity filming,” where the director uses a fast-cutting and free ranging camera movement to give a more forceful vibe to a scene. This way of creating “visual storytelling,” as he calls it, is accomplished by the blending of those techniques...
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