It's been really hot in Ohio. Nasty sticky angry hot. So, I watched a couple of summertime Spike Lee movies over the weekend to reflect my sweaty state. Do the Right Thing, released in 1989, is set in the Bedford-Stuy area of Brooklyn during a heat wave, and refers to several racial incidents that were hot news at the time. A young African-American man is killed by police officers after an incident at an Italian-owned pizza house. The neighborhood then destroys the pizzeria in retaliation for the death. Here's the thing: The movie does have a tight, emotionally political message to it, yes. But what I love about this movie is how Spike Lee directs it--strange points of view, odd shots, and a bright sense of immediacy. More than that, I love this neighborhood. With all of its faults and ungodly heat, the people who live here all know each other and treat each other like family. Because of this, even the most obnoxious characters are recognizeable, and, for the most part, likeable. There's something beautiful about that exploration of almost small town relationships. Also, Samuel L. Jackson as the DJ? Genius.
Then, I watched the movie Lee made ten years later in 1999, Summer of Sam. This film tells the story of a South Bronx Italian-American neighborhood during the summer of 1977, the summer that the Son of Sam was on his homicidal rampage. It's hot, everybody's high, and that guy you went to school with could be a serial shooter maniac. Spike does another fantastic job here of examining the relationship between people in big city neighborhoods that seem to function more like small towns. He builds the characters fully and films them beautifully. However, this movie is more a study of an era--the free sex swinging 1977, not as fun as Studio 54 would have us believe. There is one lone scene in this movie that seriously annoys me, but I have to say this is my favorite movie of Lee's, not counting his documentaries. Worth watching for the montage set to The Who's Baba O'Reilly, if for nothing else. I hold my breath during that bit every time I watch. So amazing.
Now, if this heat would just break, I can go back to mindless horror movies.