IN TRUTH, this is in many ways a mild and forgiving film. That is most striking in its coda, which follows the riot the next morning. Showing little interest in ordinary plausibility and “realism,” Lee has Mookie, who triggered the riot by throwing a trashcan through the pizzeria’s window, return to confront a disconsolate Sal and demand his usual pay. Sal is stunned but ends by throwing cash at Mookie, futilely trying to explain what his business meant to him. There is no rapprochement it is instructive to note, in the book, Lee’s repeated rejection of an optimistic, “Hollywood” ending but what is remarkable here is Lee’s determination to give every one of his characters his proper respect, his due. Neither Mookie nor Sal are completely admirable figures. Lee makes a point of showing Mookie’s irresponsibility and sullenness, particularly in regard to his girlfriend and young son, and Sal’s extreme over-reaction to Radio Raheem’s music “Turn that jungle music off, we ain’t in Africa,” he screams, as he smashes Raheem’s boombox with a bat provokes the fight that will end in Raheem’s death. Indeed, there is no single character in the film to provide an obvious moral center all are flawed, quirky, human and it is At Howard Beach an African American died after he was chased into traffic by white boys. the neighborhood itself that is the protagonist of the film, the neighborhood’s defeat and tragedy which concludes it. Racism, Lee’s film suggests, doesn’t just make it impossible to live together, it makes it impossible to live, with any pride and decency, at all. Yet the conclusion makes the film seem much more somber than it is as a whole. Do the Right Thing is peopled with delightfully rendered American characters: drunk and factotum, who sweeps sidewalks in return for beer money and offers the cryptic wisdom of the film’s title; Mother window overlooking the block, handing out advice and witness to all her neighbors; made nationalist without a cause, a leader without followers; the hilarious “corner men” and subtle chorus ML \(Paul Benjaprincipals Sal, Pino, Vito and Mookie, variations on cinematic archetypes who come together as a New York parable on race and manhood. This is an extraordinary ensemble of actors, some veterans and a host of youngsters Lee has begun to build himself a magical team. Lee’s technical development is uneven. As in the companion book, he thinks and creates almost entirely in visual terms, scene by scene, and the resulting vivacity on the screen tends to obscure scripts somewhat thin in development and coherence. His political ideas are largely instinctive, unformed although it’s worth noting that he has consistently used his projects to increase black participation and now to wedge young black filmworkers into the unions. Each of the three films has shown an. expanding confidence and formal range and more important, a courage to confront subjects e.g., sexual freedom the color wars and the race war almost entirely absent from mainstream cinema. Although Do the Right Thing’s largest subject is bleak and its conclusions far from optimistic, as a whole it has a sense of aliveness and affection that overwhelms defeat. This it has in common with its maker Lee’s determination and energy are evident from his performances and the vibrant expansiveness of his movies. Reading his books on the projects he writes them both to raise money and to de-mystify the filmmaking process, particularly for young filmmakers one sees how the films are only the glinting surface of a life-project, WITH JUSTICE FOR NONE By Gerry Spence New York: Times Books, 1989 370 pages, $18.95 AGOOD ADVOCATE is never even-handed,” declares Gerry Spence in the caveat-intro to With Justice For None. Gerry Spence is a good advocate. So while his lengthy diatribe against the American system of justice packs all the power of a jury argument by one of the country’s top litigators, it also suffers from the weaknesses that single-mindedness entails. It took such straight-ahead drive to carry a kid from rural Wyoming to the top ranks of the legal profession; the “cowboy lawyer” represented the estate of Karen Brett Campbell is an Austin writer. which appears to be to record on film as much of the black American experience as he can find the time and money for. \(His next film is said to be about jazz musicians his father, Bill Lee, is a player and composer who does much of the music for Now that the mostly empty controversy has subsided and the film has also done quite well in the theaters, one hopes that Lee will begin to get his due as one of the brightest young hopes in American film. Certainly he should not have to continue to beg for financial support as has been his lot for the previous movies. That is probably too much to expect, for a black filmmaker working in highly politicized material. \(Were he to turn, say, to historical costume dramas about slavery or the old South, or straight farce a la Eddie Murphy, what monies might flow a young person just beginning to get interested in film, I would go to Spike Lee’s door and offer to carry his clipboard in return only for the chance to watch him work, to do whatever I could to learn what it takes to make a movie. In a culture devoted to convincing black men that there is nothing for them but games or crime, Spike Lee has become that other miraculous American archetype, the self-made man. He has done so bringing his extraordinary, rough-edged and visionary art to the popular cinema, and that is a cause for celebration. 0 Silkwood and even scaled the pinnacle of modern celebrity, being featured on 60 Minutes a few years back. Yet in spite of his success, the decades spent fighting on behalf of, and then against, large corporations have convinced Spence that America’s justice system is dominated by money, biased in favor of great institutions banks, insurance companies, multinationals and against the little guys. This book, Spence’s fourth and the summation of his career at the bar, is a powerful polemic, railing against powerful insurance companies \(and their big-lie tort schools, power-drunk judges and a power-molded justice system that favors those with money over those without. But it’s also other things: part collection of war stories, introducing us to victims of giant conglomerates, negligent doctors, and Rough Justice Gerry Spence Writes on all the Lawyers Money Can Buy BY BRETT CAMPBELL THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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