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5 Things You May Not Know About 'Do The Right Thing'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 2, 2012 at 8:31AM

On a weekend where record temperatures were being recorded in New York City, and elsewhere in the U.S., it's appropriate that two of the best films in theaters, "Magic Mike" and "Take This Waltz," both revolve around long, hot summers. And it's doubly appropriate that Saturday also marked the anniversary of perhaps the definitive heatwave movie: Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing." Of course, Lee's masterpiece isn't just a look at Brooklyn over a boiling hot summer day, it's also one of the greatest American films in the history of the medium, one whose critical reputation has only grown since Kim Basinger's protestation on stage at the Oscars the following year that it was the best film of 1989, and yet hadn't been nominated (although Danny Aiello got a nod, as did Lee's screenplay).
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Do The Right Thing Wall
3. The mark the film left on the neighborhood is still visible.
Lee is one of the great chroniclers of Brooklyn, and was obviously committed to shooting in the area. In the end, a block on Stuyveysant Avenue, between Lexington and Quincy, was selected, and Lee used The Fruit of Islam, Louis Farrakhan's security guards, to clear drug dealers away from the location. Not a lot had to be done, although production designer Wynn Thomas had to build both the Korean convenience store, and Sal's pizzeria from scratch. Lee also wanted a color scheme that emphasized the heatwave, from the backdrop to Perez's dance in the opening sequence to the wall in front of which ML, Coconut Sid and Sweet Dick Willie sit; it's hard to find a frame of the film without red in it somewhere, thanks to the efforts of Thomas and DoP Ernest Dickinson. The cinematographer also kept lit cans of Sterno next to the camera to give a hazy, shimmering look throughout the film. The burning of Sal's pizzeria means that it obviously can't be found now, but tourists will find that its site remains an empty grass plot, never filled in, and should also be able to spot both the red wall and the mural featuring Mike Tyson.

4. References to the film can be found throughout Lee's other films.
The return of Lee as Mookie in the upcoming "Red Hook Summer" is welcome, but is far from the first time that the lines between Lee's pictures have blurred. For instance, the argument about stepping on the Air Jordans was recycled from a scene cut from the script of "She's Gotta Have It," while Laurence Fishburne's pleas to 'Wake up!" at the end of "School Daze" are picked up by Samuel L. Jackson at the beginning of "Do The Right Thing" (Lee also tips his hat to his previous film by a t-shirt worn by a kid saying 'Da Butt' -- a song by Experience Unlimited performed in "School Daze.") Meanwhile, Michael Rapaport's character in "Bamboozled" riffs on Buggin' Out when he tells Damon Wayans "Look at all the brothers on the wall," while the hostages in "Inside Man" are fed pizza from Sal's Famous. Perhaps most crucially, Rick Aiello and Miguel Sandoval, who play Long and Ponte, the two cops that kill Radio Raheem, return, billed as the same characters, in "Jungle Fever," and Aiello would also reprise Long in "Clockers."

Spike Lee Obama
5. The Obamas saw the movie on their first date.
On its release (after having premiered at Cannes a month before, where it failed to win anything; Lee has hinted that he had his revenge on jury chair Wim Wenders by denying him a prize at the Venice Film Festival years later), the film proved hugely controversial. This wasn't necessarily a surprise -- Lee had argued with Aiello, a staunch Republican, throughout shooting about the subject matter -- but the venom of some of the reviews was particularly ridiculous, with David Denby predicting that it would lead to riots and that Lee was "playing with dynamite in an urban playground" and he'd be responsible if "audiences go wild." As it turned out, no riots took place, but the film did leave its mark on the country nevertheless. President Obama told Lee at a fundraiser that the director hosted at his house in New York in January that "On my first official date with Michelle I took her to see 'Do The Right Thing'... the movie had just come out, and I was showing my sophistication in selecting this independent filmmaker, and she was impressed. I think you helped me out that day." Certainly a better choice than "The Karate Kid Part III," which was released on the same day...

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., Spike Lee, On This Day In Movie History, Features, Do The Right Thing


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