Set in a mixed-race Brooklyn neighborhood on a day of ratcheting tension, Do the Right Thing remains as incendiary today as it did on release in 1989. The rising temperature of the hottest day of summer escalates into a senseless death and culminates in a riot that begins at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria.


It was the second of many ‘Spike Lee joints’ edited by Barry Alexander Brown, ACE, after the pair met and bonded over a love of movies in New York


“Both of us were very green,” Brown says. “Neither one of us understood that I was supposed to be editing while he was shooting. So, we’d look at dailies together but I didn’t edit until the film was wrapped


In the course of that, Lee came in to join Brown at the Steenbeck and Brown suggested a way of using footage shot but as yet unused to convey more information about the hottest day of the year


Spike had come up with the idea on the set of asking Samuel L Jackson’s DJ character to reel off a list of influential artists. They recorded it without knowing where or even if it would ever be used. “I said to Spike, ‘Let me try this. Let’s put Jackson’s riff together with some footage which was maybe shot as transitions together with Bill Lee’s music. I decided to insert that between scenes when Mookie (Spike Lee) is in the shower and screaming at his sister and the scene in the pizzeria with Sal (Danny Aiello) and his son sitting at the window.”


The montage is languid, composed of four shots showing the oppressive heat (a dolly move out of a window, a trio of men sitting against a bright red wall, cops in a sweltering car and another shot tracking slowly downward from an apartment)


Brown highlights this in contrast to an earlier montage sequence designed by Lee and involving a fire hydrant, which sets up the exuberant and manic tension of the day’s climbing heat.


The film’s ending has Mookie putting a trash can through the window of his employer, Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. “There were a lot of white people very disturbed by Mookie doing that and maybe even more disturbed that he shows up the next morning and demands his wages from Sal,” recalls Brown. “Universal didn’t like that ending. They certainly didn’t want Mookie to pick up the money [which Sal has thrown at him in disgust]. Going back to New York on the plane with Spike, I said, ‘You and I both know what it’s like to be so broke – you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. None of those execs know what that’s like. Sure, you might make a grand gesture by walking away from $100 bills on the floor but the reality is that when you’re truly broke you will pick it up. You can’tlive on high principles.


Brown adds, “We kept the ending but went back and added in shots of Smiley (Roger Smith) putting up a picture of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in the burning pizzeria – a shot which was improvised on set – and finished with quotes by them. Universal screened it again in a black neighborhood of L.A. and only then understood just how the film connected with an audience.”


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Susana Benaim- 2022 EFG Breakout Session

Susana Benaim- 2022 EFG Breakout Session

ACE presents the Breakout Room Session featuring Kirk Baxter, ACE, editor of “The Social Network, Mank” Moderated by Megan Keen (Adobe) for ACE EditFest 2021.