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Lee did the right thing
on February 25, 2001
In only his third film, Spike Lee created a classic that is both socially relevant and artistically accomplished. By focusing the actions at one location in one day, this film reminds us that race relation cannot be improved if we don't improve the way each one of us interacts with everyone else. The film's finale is notable for its echos of real events that occurred not long before the film was made, and its prescience of events to follow. It is an unforgettable movie scene that shows how intolerance can victimize everyone. Nevertheless, the apocalyptic vision of the final scene did not sit well with some critics. Is it a call to end violence or to start violence, they asked. In the film Lee seems to say there are no easy answers.
Somewhat overlooked is the fact that the film also makes keen observations of lives of American black underclass, especially in the portrayals of the "cornermen". Their exchanges are as amusing as they are trenchant in commenting the state of affairs of lower-class blacks. And through them, Lee takes the uncompromising position that sometimes the underprivileged can also be victims of their own mentalities.
Also, Lee subtlely shows the many faces of racial intolerance. While Sal's son Pino overtly hates blacks, and Buggin' Out is overtly intolerant of whites, but is the attitude of Sal himself really conducive towards racial harmony? Does he have a desire to get to know his neighbors, or does he simply want to "have no trouble with these people", as he puts it? By leaving this aspect ambiguous, Lee makes us think just what IS the right thing to do...
Despite all the criticisms against him, I believe Lee tackled the difficult subject as intelligently as any director could have done.
The Criterion DVD contains most of the supplements in the Criterion laserdisc released in 1995 -- audio commentaries, cast meetings and screen tests, 'Making Of' documentary. New supplements include Lee's press conference at the '89 Cannes festival, video interview with editor Barry Brown, "Fight the Power" music video, and a video segment showing the filmmakers re-visiting the Bed-Stuy neighborhood.
The DVD's video quality is characterized by deep, rich, saturated colors which cinamatographer Ernst Dickerson so brilliantly captured in order to create a feeling of overwhelming heat (literally and figuratively). There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track (Prologic-decodable to surround), and a PCM stereo track that actually sounds brighter and crisper than the DD track.