Do the Right Thing Diary – Book Review
Spike Lee has become sort of a joke recently, a walking pariah of the legend that was once Spike Lee. He can still get a movie made. He’s being interviewed on the Sundance channel programs. He’s invited to film festivals. He’s court side at Knicks games (probably his only goal, all along). But it’s one of those “you had to be there” things to understand the force that was Spike Lee.
In 1989, the New York Knick’s #1 fan, achieved the impossible. He managed to transcend the black experience into commercial cinema. Or, at least, create the illusion that he was commercial. In truth, Spike Lee’s films didn’t make a tremendous amount. They didn’t lose money, but they weren’t box office hits. However, his comet-like arrival on the film scene was enough to force Hollywood to make films about the black experience. You had to be there to understand how impressive this was.
Spearheading Spike’s legend was the film, “Do The Right Thing.” Which arrived that summer like an Earthquake (the big films that summer were “Batman” and “When Harry Met Sally…”). A born self-promoter, Spike wrote diaries for five films, beginning with “You’ve Gotta Have It” (his $175,000 black and white 16mm debut). He also wrote one for “School Daze,” “Mo’ Better Blues” and “Malcom X.” At the time, there weren’t many books on making films, and none as detailed and candid as Spike Lee’s film diaries. I still think there aren’t many books today that match the pure experience of a Producer/Director raising money, casting actors, directing the movie and fighting with the studio to promote said picture. And doing with such honesty and priceless insight.
I’ve read all five probably twice, but “Do The Right Thing” I must have read several times. I recall his battle with the studio to release his previous film “School Daze,” trying to cast Robert DeNiro as Sal, constantly fighting Universal for an extra million, trimming his budget constantly to fit his production, and writing and rewriting his screenplay simultaneously. It’s amazing that his greatest film was made under such duress. And in fact, my theory about Spike Lee is, like the professional NBA players he admires so much, he needs the pressure to thrive and reach great heights.
Once he got comfortable, he stopped doing the things that created the “Spike Lee” legend. Like for example, writing his own screenplays (each of which is included in his diary books). But still, if you want to understand what it was like to be there, the “Do The Right Thing” diary is the closest you’ll get. And if you hate Spike Lee, you can still learn an incredible about the iron will it takes to get a movie made in Hollywood. It’s available on Amazon for 1 cent (minus shipping) and worth every penny.
Written by: Norith Soth