Love, Hate,and Duality
a thought piece joint by the source
“Pino who’s your favorite Basketball player?”
“Favorite movie star?”
“Eddie Murphy” he responds quizzically.
“Who’s your favorite rock star? Prince. You’re a Prince fan.”
“Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand," Radio Raheem warmly began. "It's a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man.” Love and Hate, on this duality does Spike Lee walk upon with balance. As he does so, creating cinema that with every passing day serves to be immortal. Do The Right Thing came to theaters in 1989, and presented to us a slice of life beaming with humanity. This joint follows the life and times of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year. The heat that is of constant complaint in effect serves as a representation of the community’s racial tension, an equally sweltering reality.
The parallels drawn between Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee are well documented, along with their friendship and shared upbringing on the New York Streets that's reflected in their work. Just like Marty gives us insight to the communal nuances and authentic character to Italian life, Spike Lee provides the same insight to black culture with documentary-like authenticity. And in this case, thus also showing Italian prejudice against African Americans from the opposing perspective. The story presents Mookie as its lead, a pizza delivery man portrayed by Spike Lee himself. The longtime Italian American Bed-Stuy resident Sal, the owner of the pizzeria, employs his two sons. The older of which Pino is openly racist, while his younger brother Vito gets along with Mookie much smoother. With employment tying him to this environment we can begin to reveal the personal insecurities that prejudice is built from. After a racist remark from Pino with a hard R sprinkled in somewhere, Mookie pulls him aside for a few questions before a delivery.
No matter how he tries to justify it he cannot hide this black admiration, and in turn, jealousy that fog his perception. Even his father Sal, who begins to reveal his lust for Mookie’s sister Jade, cannot help but thirst the juices of the darker berry. So instead of the beautiful diffusion of cultures in a diverse community, we see the cycle of shame and ignorance perpetuate. After his talk with Pino gains no common ground, they further reinforce this idea with one of the film’s most iconic and effective moments. The camera pushes in aggressively to Mookie as he lets out a string of Italian slurs out in the street to the fourth wall. Then onto Pino in the same style, releasing every black slur in his lexicon. We further get to indulge in a rant from a Latio directed at Koreans, a cop throwing hate at Puerto Ricans, and a Korean shop owner taking aim at chocolate egg cream-drinking Jews. In a clever inversion of the visual technique we’ve just seen, this moment of catharsis in the film is capped off when Bed-Stuy’s resident disc jockey Mr. Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) rolls closely into the shot to tell us directly to cool that shit out. “And that’s the double truth, Ruth.”
Throughout Do The Right Thing Mookie stands as an observer, more so a moral compass than a traditional hero. Further, I mean that the neighborhood is always presented as bigger than him. That also being literal in form, with common use of wide shots framing the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood as an engulfing presence above Mookie as he walks within its grandeur. The neighborhood is the true protagonist.
The characters and their actions in the community happen simultaneously though separate from Mookie at times. A rowdy dispute of perceived gentrification, aged banter from seasoned wit, or a fire hydrant party on the block is always just around the corner.
Let's take a look at the block party on that burning afternoon. Scored perfectly to Steel Pulse’s “Can’t Stand it”, a close-up of the cracking of ice cold beers backs out to the sight of a group of friends sitting on the brownstone steps. Meanwhile, a fire hydrant meets its match in a wrench as its life blood begins to spray out and flow within the street. The neighborhood gathers to rejoice in this source of life, playing in the water and bonding in the escape of the oppressive heat. Then the police arrive. Their mere presence burning through festivity and levity like napalm through a village. After they assess the scene they shut off the water without any dispute. Though no ill words or hostility has yet to be thrown, an air of superiority wafts from their movements, hate radiates from beneath their slate sunglasses. As they make their exit they pass by Coconut Sid, ML, and Sweet Dick Willy posted in their eternal spot against the red brick wall. The seasoned wit of earlier mention, serving as the vessel of neighborhood commentary. The frame rate slightly slowed, the camera tightly pans across each of their faces. A portrait of the black man. Indifference. Poverty. Contempt. They gaze back. “What a waste”, both groups utter to themselves.
As these seeds of hate have been sewn and nourished you may wonder what climax shall sprout. The last watering of this toxic flower came from the lack of black stars on the “Wall of Fame” in Sal’s pizzeria. Taking offense to this, Buggin Out (brought to life by a young Giancarlo Esposito before Gus Fring and his meth empire) leads an attempted boycott of Sal’s. He enters the pizza joint bringing with him neighborhood mainstays including Smiley and the ever passive Radio Raheem. Cued to Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”, as with every scene marked with Raheem’s presence. Longtime cinematographer to Spike Lee, Ernest Dickerson, offers us a clear view of the lines of battle that are drawn and the balance of power in the dining room of Sal’s. Communicating this through rapid cuts swinging back and forth between the patrons; with staple shots of extreme high and low and dutch angles connecting it all. As tempers flare and slurs are flung, the smashing of Raheem’s Radio is what cuts through the hostile party to piercing silence. And with this we see the only action to bring him to violence. An attack on culture, on expression, on art.
The brawl spills to the street with Raheem and Sal at the center and everyone working to pull them apart. Anxious blood begins to pulse as the red and blue flashes down the street and enters the scene. We then witness an injustice that we are painfully all too familiar with. The same police officers we met earlier pull Raheem off of Sal with their nightsticks firmly pressed underneath his windpipe. Upon submission, no relent. The grip tightening as he is lifted off his feet by his neck. Without mercy, reduced to a lifeless body thrown into the back of a squad car. Now even more anguished at the killing of Raheem, the now gathered crowd misplace their hostility back toward Sal. But what brings the night’s swelter to a fever pitch is Mookie himself hailing a garbage can through the pizzeria window, and the riot begins.
So what is the right thing? Though the film is careful not to preach a direct answer, it slides it right under our noses. We all contribute mistakes that fuel the problems of our social landscape. Beyond our awareness, we still can fall into our emotions. As Mookie tries to bring balance and insight to those around him, it is him however that casts the first stone that erupts into violence. Radio Raheem, the beacon of love and turning thy cheek is driven to rage once he is finally and effectively provoked. But it is in his own warm words on the duality of man that the Right Thing can be found quite literally. Because it is in the Left hand of humankind that we have hate. And in the Right, we have love. The two coexist and feed into each other. But we can always do what's in that right hand. And that’s the double truth, Ruth.
and the Anatomy of the Gunshot
Kill People Burn Shit Fuck School. America loves watching violence. I love watching violence. But this lust isn’t exclusive to our culture, no. From the days of arenas packed with blood thirsty Romans to witness gladiators descend upon their fate, to the shameless sensationalism of the 24/7 news cycle, the human race has a taste for the cruelty that is natural to life. We stick our hand as close to the fire as possible without touching. One constant is our look to the arts, and what better medium to depict violence than film? Transfixed by every gunshot, every beating, every display of will, excited by the piercing bursts of blood; the appeal of action is everlasting.
As I watch Free Fire I begin to connect these thoughts. Soon I find just how much Ben Wheatley and his film dissect and stretch the very concept of action. It's also worth noting its black humor, and how this viewing experience truly reinforced my faith in the quality of action comedies.
The only peace in this movie is found as we begin with our characters meeting up at an arms deal. The two parties assemble within a dilapidated Boston warehouse, respectively led by Chris (Cilliain Murphy) of the IRA and the roguishly handsome and ever so facetious Ord (Armie Hammer) as a representative of the arms supplier.
“You didn’t masturbate before you got here? Told you I don’t work with anyone who's carrying a
loaded weapon” -Ord
This supplier of earlier mention is Vernon, portrayed by Sharlto Copley. The South African actor gives an invigorating performance to the flagrant Australian arms dealer, who was misdiagnosed as a child genius and spent his life resting on those laurels. Oh how this fact breeds such a specific flavor of misogynism and cunt-ery. Also among this obstreperous party is IRA associate and heroin enthusiast Stevo (Sam Riley). He makes the connection that one of the arms dealers, Harry (Jack Reynor) was the man who attacked him the night before. Though it's worth noting this was a
retaliation for his sexual advances on Harry’s teenage cousin, who according to Stevo, gave quite the quality top. (More on that in just a second.) Friction emerges among these egos as tensions build. Intermediary Justine (Brie Larson) attempts to maintain a peaceful vibe along with the efforts of Ord. Though Vernon bringing AR-70s instead of the desired M-16s just fan the embers of a soon to be raging fire. But what sparks this flame-what finally causes an end to any remaining stability of this transaction-is the sonic piercing of Harry’s gunshot, delivered with special sincerity for Stevo. And with that, shattering this fragile peace like the bullet did to his shoulder.
In a small aside, Harry utters "Suck on this" before shooting Stevo with a small calibre revolver. This is most likely an homage to Taxi Driver, when Travis Bickle utters the same line before gunning Sport in the stomach with a similar piece. Furthermore, both victims engaged in sex with minors. Director Ben Wheatley has mentioned the Scorcese masterpiece as his personal favorite.
As we devolve into chaos everyone scatters into cover where they will remain for the entirety of the film. We are entertained in only one setting. They’re in this warehouse for the long-haul, Reservoir Dogs style nigga. Even further reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon. This is where the beauty lies, in the deconstruction of your expectations. Since the very first gunshot recorded to film in 1894 by whole-lotta-slime Thomas Edison in the 20 second Annie Oakley, we’ve always been transfixed by the sight of guns on our screens. From the iconic closing shot of a bandit firing his six shooter at the audience of 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, to every round delivered with a single tap from John Wick to the skulls of the misfortunate-followed by a symphony of thuds of limp bodies hitting the ground. The gun has always been the highest symbol of climax to a film. Yet Free Fire beautifly extracts every bit of this excitement and crafts its own formula. This being that a shootout is not a means to an end in a story sense, but is the end. And the means.
Simply put, the entirety of Free Fire is one long shootout. Once in cover our combatants do not emerge. Well, only for bursts of seconds where they are graciously met with a bullet. The occasional shin or elbow slips out of cover and presents itself as a shining target. The air in the room is of agony and the iron stench of blood. Everyone pinned by random fire and confusion. Free fire, some might say.
The close quarter nature is where the comedic potential of the writing truly blossoms. Sarcastic retorts fueled by frustration and bewilderment are ping ponged back and forth. With every passing second, as bullet wounds rack up and the stalemate persists, the pure absurdity of the situation is revealed. Death does not occur left and right, but bullets do. We instinctively cringe when we see a character in a movie suffer a gunshot wound, knowing the grave fate that lies ahead. However, after every wound in Free Fire the action persists. They continue to drag their pierced limbs across the broken glass, dirt, and heroin needles on the cold concrete floor of the warehouse. Flailing insults and the stream of their consciousness at each other. Ord actually pauses from the action to roll up a much needed joint behind the safety of a wooden box.
As film viewers our perception of the shootout has remained constant. No matter its style or context the writing and direction gives it, the structure of what it represents to film has always been the same. A shootout is grave. It's final. But Free Fire succeeds in stretching the symbol of climax that the gun represents, painting a beautiful, absurd disaster of the uncertainty. As I search my mind for a fitting epitaph, all I can find is All Hail A24. You did it again.
Here I find myself again, caught in that doomed endeavor. I experience a movie that provokes my most passionate thoughts, the awe of the human experience that gives me life. Then I sit and ponder its achievements and savor the bonds it formed with me. Leading to the natural (more so, psychologically crucial) release of a typing sesh to capture that same lust for life's tragedy. You may feel my words, but I look at my creations as regurgitation of passion. I write to sing my love for the subject, to play the strings of my soul that were struck in cinematic harmony. I desire more than a simple critique or that painfully mundane exercise of a review. But I find my starry-eyed ambitions of work being purely a stream of my consciousness are grounded by dependence on the art of others. So with that being said, allow me to go forth with all I can do. To be your source to the tragedy of our existence, and the wonders of life.
My true appreciation for Kevin Smith as a filmmaker was birthed when I watched Clerks. In fact, it was one of the first films to inspire me to conceive one of these twisted thought pieces. I found its raw dialogue to be refreshing. Characters interacted in a manner that felt to be real, with conversation that explored the taboo. Along with this came a consistent delivery of humor and vulgar wit that created a genuine, relatable atmosphere. Its energy akin to the progressive and profane ideas conversed during acid sessions, the new age commentators of sex politics that I find myself of. Now that I discover Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith’s magnum opus, I see the finest execution of these qualities to date. A true success in utilizing this authenticity to give us a conscious exploration into the spectrum of sexuality, and the conflicts that one’s ego presents in a relationship. Time, sent adrift by the lingering on one's past; love, forfeited by the failure to accept in the present. All of this done with an acute sense of self-awareness gives it the ability to convey a lesson of wisdom. Today’s lesson: confront your blinding ego, happiness may await.
and The Burning Youth
I lust, therefore I indulge. Seeking truth in the pain, I find counsel in art. The singing of this keyboard lends beautiful catharsis. A prowling fiend I am, always in search of the next experience to reflect my life my own life upon or learn the lives of others. This morning was developing into another aimless high, smacked out of mind and failing to satisfy that lust. That is until I stumbled upon an acclaimed classic that has always escaped me: City of God.
To some, referring to the blood-drenched slums of Rio De Janeiro as the City of God may appear as a cruel exercise in irony. But I find it a fitting name. The arcs of our characters unfold in a biblical essence. Though, one lacking a sense of order and morality. This City of God is a symphony of crime and poverty. Innocent fall to rape and slaughter, the heartless thrive on indiscriminate chaos. Vice thrives and seeps into the lives of the unsuspecting. In such a place one dichotomy rules: hell or glory.
As I try to relate this to experiences of my own, a single question comes to mind. Is the millennial pursuit not the same? The creatives of us find ourselves like our film’s lead soul, caught in a purgatory of morality, balancing on the edge of will. A generation of lost artists with an uncertain future because we simply won't accept what is forced to us. We all desire to carve our own fate from our environment. As Hunter S. Thompson put to words,”We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave, our energy simply will prevail.” For our main protagonist, his impassioned guerilla photography grants him just this.
11:00 A.M. Alone in my room I sat. Thoughts routinely influenced by THC and the energy to type provided by caffeine. My soul set ablaze and smoldering in the pyre of tribulation. In lasting remains was a resuscitation of my sense of will. Our fate is a flickering ember. Whether the winds of luck blow them into the fulfilling flames of life’s passions or ignites the spark of our fatal flaw, duality is the nature of this beautiful hellscape we find ourselves in.