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July 14, 1989 - Image 8

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1989-07-14

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ARTS

The Michigan Daily

Page 8

.w

No Right answers
Spike Lee's new film confronts
the consequences of racial conflict
BY ALYSSA KATZ residents are primarily Black or
Hispanic, the local businesses in-
With his third movie, Do the clude a Korean grocery, as well as a
Right Thing, director/writer/actor pizzeria run by Sal (Danny Aiello)
Spike Lee has ventured where and his two goofy sons. Lee plays
mainstream American filmmakers Mookie, an amiable if sometimes ir-
have long refused - and no doubt responsible guy who delivers Sal's
feared - to tread. In this often pizzas.
powerful, always engrossing film, By filling the neighborhood with
Lee approaches the issue of racism pleasantly cartoonish peripheral
head on and uncompromisingly, as characters, Lee creates an appealingly
he consistently dares viewers to ex- stylized social setting for the film's
amine their own feelings and beliefs. events. While Sefnor Love Daddy
The film's highly provocative tone broadcasts from his storefront radio
is its strongest asset: while almost station, three middle-aged guys hang
no one in today's don't worry be out on a corner; Radio Raheem
happy/let's just get rich America is blasts Public Enemy from his 20-
likely to take up this film's call to battery box; Da' Mayor (Ossie
action, few people who see Do the Davis) courts Mother Sister (Ruby
Right Thing will be able to leave the Dee), the block's stoopside voyeur;
theater unmoved. Tina orders pizza in order to get her
From frame one, the film's con- boyfriend Mookie to visit for some
frontational tone is unmistakable. ice cube-enhanced sex (this great
Tina (Rosie Perez) appears alongside performance is Perez' first); a
the credits, wearing a boxer's outfit retarded man sells copies of a photo
and dancing furiously to Public showing Martin Luther King and
Enemy's "Fight the Power" while Malcolm X smiling together; and
throwing punches at the camera. the hyper-fashionable Buggin' Out
While the film's angry tone quiets (Giancarlo Esposito), complaining
down for a while after this introduc- that there are no pictures of Blacks
tory sequence, it never fades away in the "hall of fame" on Sal's walls,
entirely. Instead, it hangs around like calls for a boycott of Sal's pizza.
a steadily growing storm cloud While these characterizations
which ultimately bursts. come across as a little forced at
Do the Right Thing takes place en- times (Da' Mayor and Mother
tirely on a single block in the Sister's scenes in particular have a
Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in tendency to slow the film down),
Brooklyn in one 24-hour period on they, along with the film's bright
the hottest day of the year. Racial color scheme and sharp cinematogra-
tensions run high here: while area's phy, work together to give Do the

Mookie (Spike Lee) and Sal (
Brooklyn sweats in Lee's pow
Right Thing a clearly defined, slight-
ly artificial and usually successful
aesthetic. While Lee occasionally
overindulges in film student ex-
cesses, his tightly controlled directo-
rial and screenwriting styles gener-
ally mesh well with the film's
weighty subject matter; this is a ad-
mirable feat on Lee's part.
His deftness is clear in the film's
most jarring sequence, a Brechtian
interlude in which people stare
straight into the camera and recite li-
tanies of racial slurs: a white ma-
ligns Blacks, a Black badmouths
Asians, a Korean angrily denounces
Jews, etc. This scene works so
powerfully because it is radical both
stylistically and politically. Just as
you're getting used to the idea of
characters speaking directly at you,
you realize that you are the target of
some of the statements. This is not

0

Danny Aiello) exchange tense words in Sal's pizzeria, as all of
erful study of racial tensions, Do the Right Thing.
easy to watch. then intensifies them by closing the
film with a pair of quotes: one from
As the sun sets, racial tensions Martin Luther King urging peaceful
flare up. Lee delves into some of the solutions to racial problems, the
headlines of the past few years, mak- other a statement by Malcolm X
ing pointed reference to the tragic which suggests violence as a possi-
stories of Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael ble alternative. Lee's choice of title
Stewart, Michael Griffith - Blacks for this film is excellent; after all, in
who died because of racism and po- a situation like the one portrayed
lice brutality. The movie's climactic here, can one truly do the right
riot is well-filmed and disturbing. thing? Unlike many filmmakers, he
Lee plays out all of the ambiguities doesn't try to find clear-cut answers
of the situation to their fullest, and when none exist.

El Inflerno
By Carlos Martinez Moreno
Readers International/$8.95
"A man's death," writes Carlos
Martinez Moreno, "should always be
central to any drama. That is why,
among other reasons, wars are so
stupid - they waste and sacrifice at
the same time thousands of central
plots." El Infierno, Martinez
Moreno's first work to be translated
into English, is a brilliant recreation
of those plots - and the men and
women who lived them - within
the Dante-esque hell that engulfed
the author's native Uruguay in the
early seventies.
The Uruguayan Army's "little
dirty war" against the Left was one
of the more brutal of those ignomin-
ious efforts to wipe out "subversion"
characteristic of Southern Cone
countries during the seventies. But
however important the raw statistics
concerning Uruguay's experience

with fascism may be - one of every chilling admonitions that torture
fifty citizens would be tortured or should be organized, betray no pas-
disappeared before it was over - sion, and take place in an aura of ab-
they fail to capture what this night- solute silence provides a stark intro-
mare meant in the lives of the peo- duction to the accelerating crescendo
ple who lived it. of violence which leads Uruguayan
From the opening pages of his society, as the author puts it, to "a
novel, Martinez Moreno evokes that brutality which in time would be-
nightmare through a series of indi- come a law unto itself."
vidual portraits which bring to life In the ensuing pages, the reader
the Tupamaro guerrillas dedicated is given a grim tour of the perverse
pledged to transforming society; the forms such brutality can take. One
soldiers who destroyed them and that meets a woman going mad under the
society in the name of saving both; pressures of extended solitary con-
the beggars and prostitutes who are finement. One watches with a hus-
innocent bystanders to this struggle; band as he is forced to watch his
and the diabolical North American wife raped, as well as his subsequent
adviser willing to use them as effort to believe his wife's defiant
guinea pigs in his classes for the insistence - as the rape happens -
military on torture techniques. that "it doesn't matter." One sees a
Martinez Moreno opens the prisoner deny the stinking corpse of
book with his ruthless spotlight his political comrade and close
upon the adviser, demonstrating the friend, forced to deny his past and its
use of electric cattle-prods in torture connections in order to salvage his
to a pliable Uruguayan audience. His own future.

It is through his depiction of from what was happening in an
this numbing dehumanization of army of which he was an officer, in
people forced to place their own sur- a military zone to which he was at-
vival above their ideals and their tached."
love that Martinez Moreno best con- Few of El Infierno's characters
veys what Hannah Arendt has aptly manage to transcend these divisions
described as the "banality of evil." or the "banal" atrocities they can
The crippling atomization in spawn. Even the Tupamaros, in one
Uruguayan life, which is part of of the most excruciating scenes in
what the author aptly describes as "a the novel, decide to kill an innocent
disjointed war," augments this dead- rural laborer who stumbles upon one
ening of the senses and accompany- of their hideouts, reinforcing the su-
ing erosion of a sense of responsibil- thor's point that a revolution must
ity for others. primarily be made by the people
The North American adviser, for who it is for, and not, exclusively,
example, working for the U.S. by those who claim to speak in their
Agency for International name - however sincere or fervent
Development, knows nothing of the their commitment to social justice.
CIA's activities. An Uruguayan gen- But Martinez-Moreno's many
eral, in the name of duty, represses portraits of the Tupamaros make
fond memories of his days with a clear that such episodes were, for
schoolteacher whom he knows has them, exceptional - not, as was the
been disappeared. An officer cog- case with the military, a rule.
nizant of the disappearance of a Throughout the novel, their decent
pleading mother's son claims not to treatment of their prisoners contrasts
know if the stains on the shirt she starkly with the military's torture
shows him are the boy's blood: "it techniques, and their willingness to
was as if he were totally removed See Uruguay, p. 9

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