Tag Archives: classic

A few reasons to come and see Do The Right Thing at the Hackney Picturehouse tonight (or tomorrow)

If you think you’ve seen a post very similar to this one in the recent past, it’s because you have. But the last time I checked, copying and pasting was not a crime.

As part of Picturehouse Cinemas’ ongoing American Masters strand, the lovely Hackney Picturehouse is running two late night screenings of Spike Lee’s classic Do The Right Thing, tonight (Aug 10) and tomorrow (Aug 11), start time 22:40. I’ll be popping down to introduce tonight’s screening.

In case you were undecided about whether or not to come along, here are some reasons to convince you to part with your cash.

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1. We’re screening it in 35mm

Back in the day, any time you went to a cinema you’d be seeing your film of choice on a celluloid print. However, in recent times, for reasons both economic and access-based, exhibitors have increasingly tended to show films digitally (Won’t go into detail here, but this is a good read). But the boat’s been pushed out to source a genuine 35mm print from Universal, so you can appreciate Ernest Dickerson’s stunning cinematography in all its glory.

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2. Style tips for what remains of our wondrous London summer

You need look no further for inspiration than Ruth E. Carter’s costumes for the film. Here’s a little excerpt from a piece I wrote about the film’s style for the great website Clothes on Film“Carter’s contribution is vital in three key areas: establishing a sense of place and adding depth to the characters, supporting the film’s themes, and contributing to a bold onscreen representation of blackness which, as suggested by Ed Guerrero, ‘challenges and erodes the skin-colour hierarchy of Hollywood’s classic optical hegemony'”. If that’s a bit academic, I’ll put it straight: the clothes are fucking cool.

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3. It’s not only Spike’s best film, but one of the best of the ’80s

Spike’s third film marked the flowering of a major, major talent. An epic cocktail of drama, comedy, style, music and politics, Do The Right Thing wowed audiences and critics alike, and proved the major catalyst in the black American cinema boom of the early 1990s (think Boyz N The HoodMenace II SocietyJuiceFresh, Spike’s subsequent joints). Watch it now and you’ll be stunned by how it doesn’t seem to have dated at all (save for the occasional haircut). It’s also difficult to think of another film with so many amazing, unforgettable characters: Radio Raheem, Da Mayor, Mookie, Senor Love Daddy, Pino, Sweet Dick Willie, Tina, the list goes on. What’s more, Lee’s new film Red Hook Summer (out now in the USA, UK release TBC) sees the director return to Brooklyn for a pseudo-sequel – Mookie’s even rumoured to have a small cameo. This is a great chance to prepare yourself.

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4. Because… well, because FIGHT THE POWER, innit?

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Hop on down to the Hackney Picturehouse and buy tickets on the door. Map here.

Permanent Plastic Helmet presents Do The Right Thing | Update – here’s the poster!

We’re starting to get very excited about our special summer screening of Spike Lee’s classic joint Do The Right Thing at South London’s lovely Clapham Picturehouse cinema on Thursday 5 July. You can book tickets by following this link.

If you’re on Facebook, you can also use our event page to tell us you’re coming. Spread the word!

Here’s a running order:

7.30 Join us in the bar for drinks, soundtracked by classic 80s hip-hop and soul

8.45 Intro and prize giveaway

9.00 Do The Right Thing starts

And here is the beautiful poster, designed by the outrageously talented Piccia Neri.

See you on the 5th.

The Bad and the Beautiful

Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful, now showing on extended run at London’s BFI Southbank, paints a thoroughly entertaining portrait of classic Hollywood. Through a series of deft flashbacks, it chronicles of the rise and fall of an arrogant producer, Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas), from the perspectives of those he stepped on to achieve his ambitions. The film centres around a last-ditch effort from Shields to convince three of his old colleagues-turned-enemies to work on his comeback project: director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), actress Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner), and writer James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell). But what did he do to each of them to make them so angry with him? That dramatic tension hooks you in and compels you to judge for yourself whether Shields deserves help with his comeback film or not.

The story that unfolds offers a compelling, humane look at the personal lives of a range of Hollywood players during an era that preceded the invasive media scrutiny that dominates the film industry today. Kirk Douglas is brilliant as the near-mythical protagonist; this egotistical producer is not one we’re meant to feel sympathy for, but Douglas’ earnest performance reminds us that with ambition comes risk and vulnerability. It’s Shields’ ardor and addiction to filmmaking that links the three cleverly rendered flashbacks. Of the trio Shields aims to convince, Lana Turner – providing a pleasant reminder that she was more than just a pretty face – is the most captivating as the disarming Georgia. But even the minor characters are surprisingly delightful, particularly Bartlow’s wife, a scene-stealing Southern belle played by Gloria Grahame (a turn for which she won a deserved Academy Award).

The nuanced characterizations of the quirky cast are thoughtful and thorough, from their distinctive deliveries of voiceovers to their attachments to totemic props (such as Georgia’s necklace) which are often cleverly utilized for clear and logical transitions between scenes. This, combined with brisk edits, helps the film move with good momentum, accompanied by tasteful, romantic scoring. And the sumptuously detailed sets, dramatically lit, complete the dream-like atmosphere that befits classic Hollywood. The Bad and the Beautiful won five Academy Awards by practicing what it preaches; throughout the film, the protagonist aims for quality over quantity, for awards over commercial success.

That said, The Bad and the Beautiful isn’t quite a love letter to Hollywood. Rather, it presents a place where dreams begin and then are painfully reshaped. It has a refreshingly uncynical view of the industry, unafraid to be a touch moralistic in espousing self-reliance, while managing to retain a wry sense of humour about its commentary, never allowing itself to get too serious or self-congratulatory. It’s such a pleasure to see a film that respects its audience, is thoughtfully constructed, and isn’t a downer – a rare combination in Hollywood nowadays.

You have seen it. But watch it again. (A handbag?)

Here is Edith Evans in The Importance of Being Earnest, stretching two syllables into at least six. This four-second clip represents the absolute zenith of upper-class British disapproval which was almost, but not quite, matched on Royal Wedding day by furious child Grace van Cutsem (who totally stole the show).

"When are you going to write a proper film review?"

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Films that you probably haven’t seen but definitely should #3 – Hollywood Shuffle (1987, dir. Robert Townsend)

Another day at Winky Dinky Dog

Next on the list of films that have probably passed you by, but you must see, is this wicked satire on 1980s Hollywood’s racial mores, farcically still unavailable on DVD in the UK.

Elegantly shot on a super-low budget by future Mulholland Dr. DP Peter Deming, Hollywood Shuffle stars Robert Townsend (who also wrote and directed) as Bobby Taylor, a young actor struggling not only to find work but to avoid the unilaterally stereotyped roles of pimps, criminals and slaves being offered to black actors. Over the opening credits, we can hear a barrage of hackneyed, histrionic ‘jive talk’, revealed to be Taylor rehearsing for his latest audition in front of the bathroom mirror, while his little brother looks on amused. From the first minute, we are in no doubt that Taylor is aware of the innate ridiculousness of his situation.

As the film continues, Taylor is faced with problems from all sides; competition and opprobrium from his fellow actors, the crab-in-a-barrel negativity of his moronic colleagues at his day job at Winky Dinky Dog (his Napoleonic boss is played by House Party’s John Witherspoon) and the clueless, venal posturing from a triumvirate of white Hollywood exec types, who demand “more blackness” from the hopeful actors. Most touchingly, he also faces opposition from his loving Grandmother, whom he lives with in a settled family unit. His Grandmother wants him to make it, but is astute to the self-sacrifice (and potential self-abasement) that comes with throwing oneself into offensive, racially stereotyped roles. When Taylor claims, “(at least) It’s work!”, she counters with “There’s work at the post office”.

The film’s premise is simple but the form is daring and complex; in one scene, Taylor is being lectured by a hypocritical fellow actor on the dangers of selling out and ‘Uncle Tomism’. A troubled Taylor beings to daydream a parody of 70s exploitation film Mandingo, in which he pops up as a distressed butler named Jasper.  Without warning, this film-within-a-film segues into a commercial starring Taylor (now with a bizarre English accent) advertising ‘Hollywood’s First Black Acting School’ (taught, of course, by white coaches) and offering classes such as Jive Talk 100 and Shuffling 200. The scene is funny – its supposed to be – but it is also telling.

Genre parodies are rife in Hollywood Shuffle, but this is no Scary Movie (despite the involvement of the Wayans Bros) – every parody here serves to skewer stereotypes, highlight Hollywood’s racial hypocrisy and educate on the recent history of black cinema. The hoary old detective story is given a fresh spin in another film-within-a-film Death of a Breakdancer, which tells the story of Detective Sam Ace’s attempts to track down master criminal Jheri Curl. Ace (also played by Townsend), despite the humorous tone of the parody, is a rounded character; he is allowed to fight (not kill), fuck (not rape), solve crimes (not commit them), be articulate (not a jive turkey). Having watched the film on TV, Taylor remarks to his girlfiend, “That’s the kind of role I want”, drawing into sharp focus the one-dimensionality of the roles he repeatedly goes for.

Blaxploitation, the moneyspinning 1970s genre in which black sexual potency was key, is also challenged by Townsend. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot, the screenplay for the hopeless Afros vs. Mexicans film that Taylor successfully auditions for bears the preposterous name of Mandrill Man Vacuum – an obscure yet arch riff on Melvin Van Peebles, director of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

Townsend also offers a moment of pure horror, in which the execs repeatedly demand an “Eddie Murphy type” while the camera pans across a row of bare-necked, leather-jacketed black actors (some of the lighter-skinned actors are blacked up) giving it their best Murphy-style shit-eating grin; the message – if you don’t want to be a crim or a pimp, then ape the one guy that made it. The shot settles on Taylor who, against his will, as though possessed, convulses into a wave of Murphy-esque ‘he-he-he’s. A star Murphy may have been, but he didn’t have it all his own way in Hollywood either. Consider the lengths to which the makers of Beverly Hills Cop went to ensure he didn’t sexually engage with co-star Lisa Eilbacher. His only relationship in that film is a pseudo-homosexual one with his murdered friend. Ergo, Hollywood was happy for Murphy to be funny, but he wasn’t going to touch their women.

Hollywood Shuffle, despite its breezy, funny exterior is also complex, challenging and disturbing; in its lazer-sharp evocation of the world of personal compromise and Hobson’s Choice faced by black actors, it reveals a multitude of uncomfortable truths barely hidden by the successes of the likes of Richard Pryor and the aforementioned Murphy in the 1980s. At a shade over 80mins, Hollywood Shuffle is one of the finest films of the 1980s, and though the proliferation of online shopping has made it a less bitter pill to swallow, it is alarming that a film of this insight and quality remains unavailable for purchase in the UK.