12 Oct 2008

Classic scenes from the movies part 4

This is a special Spike Lee race edition of classic scenes. Spike has been in the news recently due to the release of his new film Miracle at St Anna, which is based on a true story of an incident involving some African American soldiers in WWII. He's also been in the news, more infamously, for a spat he had with Clint Eastwood regarding the lack of black soldiers present in Clint's two WWII films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima.

I've been a huge Spike Lee fan since I first saw Do the Right Thing back in 1989. While he's more famous for the racially-charged nature of most (not all) of his movies, he is an extremely underrated filmmaker who counts Scorsese (the all-time master) as his major influence and it shows through in his work.

A NY director in the classic sense (along with such Big Apple luminaries like Woody Allen and the aforementioned Scorsese), Spike's movies are often just as much about the city itself (and, in some ways, America as a whole) as they are about race.

Having said that, the two clips I've included here are from his most famous (and incendiary) work, Do the Right Thing, and from probably his second-most critically-lauded movie, The 25th Hour, and are both racially-tinged.

In the first, we see a hilariously uncomfortable scene from Do the Right Thing. Set on one extremely hot summer's day in the Bedford-Stuyvesent borough of Brooklyn, DTRT tells the story of the denizens of the street including Mookie (played by Lee himself), a young African-American male who works as a delivery boy for the local pizzeria, and Sal (Danny Aiello) the Italian-American owner of said pizzeria.

DTRT is a bonafide masterpiece, telling the story of race in late-eighties America from the perspective of all NYC's citizens - black, white, hispanic and asian alike. As the day draws on and the temperatures get higher, so does the racial tension and anger of the people. Lee masterfully uses the camera (photographed by longtime Lee cinematographer Ernest Dickerson) to emphasize the growing tensions, his shots getting closer and closer to the faces of the characters as the day wears on.

A serious treatise on race with a controversial and deliberately ambiguous ending, this scene allows for one of the film's comic moments as a member of each of Bed-Stuy's races has a chance to say what's really on their minds...

The next scene is from Spike's post-9/11 work, The 25th Hour. It's ostensibly the story of a drug dealer (Edward Norton) who was one last day of freedom before he's incarcerated for seven years for his crimes. Based on a novel by David Benioff written some years before 9/11, Spike changed the crux of the film to represent NYC's post 9/11 attitudes.

In this scene, Norton talks to himself in the mirror, letting out his anger at every possible permutation of New York citizen. This scene isn't strictly from the book, as it was written mainly by Lee. It's classic Spike, delivered with a conviction that only Edward Norton among this generation's actors, could muster. Of course, it's a treatise on the fears and anger many New Yorkers felt after the attacks and is probably Spike's best-written scene from any of his movies (which is no small boast). In the background, trumpeter Terence Blanchard's (a frequent composer of the scores of Lee's films) music accurately conveys the pain Norton's character is feeling as he comes to the realization of his own waste of his life. Classic.

1 comment:

Cam said...

The Edward Norton monologue from 25th Hour is one of my favorites. I remember screening that movie when I worked at the theatre and watching that scene. I was in awe. Jaw dropping moment in that movie. Really well done.