Today’s lecture on Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) presented the film as if it were a rejoinder to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. It wasn’t intended that way of course, but juxtaposing the two films enable us to highlight aspects of each film that might otherwise be obscured. From the perspective of Lee’s Brooklyn, Woody Allen’s Manhattan appears even more restricted in its purview, and deliberately retrograde in its nostalgia and final hopefulness. Meanwhile, watching Do the Right Thing with Allen’s film in mind makes us more aware of the way in which Lee’s film is deliberately stylized and artificial. Allen evokes romanticism through his use of Gershwin’s music, but Lee’s film has the same relation to cinematic “realism” that Hawthorne’s “romances” had to the novels that he considered to be bound to a “minute fidelity” to the “ordinary and probable” (as he put it in his preface to The House of the Seven Gables): Lee needs to sprinkle in the “marvelous” in order to go beyond realism and reach what Hawthorne called “the truth of the human heart.”
Watch the two openings for yourself below. Compare Lee’s use of images, cinematography, music, and spoken words in the title montage for Do the Right Thing to Allen’s use of these cinematic elements in Manhattan? In what ways are the montages different? What, for all their differences, do these two montages have in common?
The opening montage of Manhattan lasts for about 3 1/2 minutes. The opening credits for Do the Right Thing are a minute longer.