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TREVOR JOHNSTON has words with the outspoken black
film-maker. Spike Lee.
‘Allan Parker told the Civil Rights Movement from the point of view of a white director. Steven Spielberg told The Color Purple from the point ofview ofa white person. I tell these events from the perspective ofa black person.‘ So declaims writer/producer/director/star Spike Lee after the Cannes premiere of Do The Right Thing. his latest and perhaps most controversial offering yet. ‘We are an oppressed people. and we‘ve got to stand up and defend ourselves.‘
An intelligent but impassioned dissection of the roots ofa race riot. [)o The Right Thing has Lee as the pizza delivery boy who is forced to make a stand when he’s caught up in the racial tension that gradually escalates over the course of the hottest day of the summer between Italian-American pizzeria proprieter Sal (Danny Aiello) and the local black community in the downbeat Bedford-Stuyvesant district who provide the vast bulk of his customers. Due for US release just before the Independence Day holiday period. the film‘s forthright approach has already been attacked as incendiary. coming as it does in the run-up to the bitterly contested New York mayoral elections. Lee. for his part. is hopeful that the film will go some way towards exposing the divisive legacy of the current Ed Koch administration. but adds ‘whatever might happen this summer
in NYC won‘t be because of this movie. it'll be because the cops have killed somebody else.‘ 'l‘hematically. the film uses the only known photograph of Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X together. to suggest the twin options left for the black community. and ends with two quotations which spell out the situation. King‘s words ‘ Violence as a means ofachiei'in g racial justice is both impractical and
his hardline contemporary. ‘1 don '1 call it violence when it 's .velf-tle ence. I call it intelligence’.
With an analysis that encompasses the socio-economic and cultural basis for endemic racial conflict. the film is closest to the politicist lines of his second feature. the flawed School Daze. though it retains the compact cinematic verve that made his debut She's Gotta Have It so fresh. While the film‘s sense of control has won much admiration. many white liberal critics have found Lee‘s ultimate sympathies uncomfortable to swallow. for as he says himself 'In this year ofour Lord I989. I'm leaning more towards the philosophies of Malcolm X. Dr Martin Luther King‘s non-violence stuff had its time. but when they're being beaten around the head with a brick I don‘t think young black Americans are going to turn the other cheek and say Thank you Jesus ! '
Along with Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shufﬂe). Ivory Keenan Wyans ( I'm Gonna Git You Sucka). and Charles Lane (Sidewalk Stories). Lee is at the forefront ofa number of
young blacx American film-makers
working on the fringes of Hollywood (Do The Right Thing is an independent production by his own Forty Acres and A Mule Filmworks for Universal Studios). plugging away at a cinematic revisionism that hopes to in some way to counteract the many years of negative images and under-representation that have marked white-dominated American screen culture. Yet despite the high profile held by himselfand a plethora of other black artists in the entertainments industry. the bespectacled auteur remains well aware of the dangers of ideological complacency. ‘There are many people in the US who think that racism ended with LBJ signing the Civil Rights Acts. or because Michael Jackson is the biggest rock star. Bill Cosby is the the biggest TV star. Oprah Winfrey is the top talk show host. and Mike Tyson is the heavyweight champion. But it’s not. The black underclass is larger than it‘s ever been. So don‘t be lulled to sleepjust because Eddie Murphy is huge}
Do The Right Thing is at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh from 7 July.
Five years after his death. Truffaut lives on through the talents of French film-maker Claude Miller. TREVOR JOHNSTON talks to
Miller about La Petite Voleuse.
When Francois Truffaut died in l984 at the age ofonly fifty-two. the feeling in film circles was one ofgreat sadness. but also one of deprivation. It was as ifthe masterly French director‘s career still had a number offilms to run. films that we would now never see. Now however. accomplished film-maker Claude Miller. himself'l'ruffaut‘s assistant for seven years. has completed and brought to the screen La Petite Voleuse. the project that had occupied his former master for over twenty years and which he had been working on at the time ofhis death. Following the fortunes ofa young girl in the provinces through a troubled adolescence. The Little Title/(as the title translates). was to
have originally been a secondary character in 'l‘rufl'aut's 1959 debut. his classic study of boyhood delinquency The 40!) Blows. before he realised that there was enough material for a separate movie entirely.
‘Francois knew he was going to die but he did want the film to be made. so he entrusted his screenplay. which was really about a forty-page treatment. to his friend (‘laude Berri. giving him carte blanche to film it himself. recalls Miller. whose greying hair and steel-rimmed glasses lend him a somewhat academic air. ‘Now at that time. Claude was busy w orking on Jean (lc Florette and Manon cles .S'ources. so nothing happened. It was only after
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