' Cinema Romantico: Thursday's Flashback to the 80s Freeze-Frame(s)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thursday's Flashback to the 80s Freeze-Frame(s)

In the wake of Bill Nunn’s death last September, many odes in his name mentioned Radio Raheem, the off-to-the-side central character of Spike Lee’s seminal “Do the Right Thing.” Radio Raheem may be best known for his eponymous boombox, forever challenging people to fight the power, in the words of Public Enemy, but just as fundamental were his brass knuckles, one espousing LOVE, the other declaring HATE. This is a nod to Charles Laughton’s 1955 “Night of the Hunter” where Robert Mitchum’s Reverend Harry Powell had Love tattooed on one knuckle and Hate tattooed on the other, intended to emblemize how the notions fought but love always won. Of course, the Reverend was a false prophet, and “Night of the Hunter”, as so many have opined over the years, placed these, and other, binary oppositions under the microscope to quash them. That’s why Lee has Radio Raheem recite something like a remix of Mitchum’s Love/Hate speech, as well as sport those knuckle rings, because his film, like Laughton’s, challenges and distorts that Love/Hate binary.

Lee goes so far as to allude to this binary before these rings and this speech are seen, glimpsed in Radio Raheem’s introduction, where he suddenly appears, filling the frame, boombox blaring, and then crossing the street, stopping outside the building for WE LOVE radio, 108 FM, where D.J. Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) sits. Señor sees him and shouts him out and receives a fist in the air from Radio Raheem in return.

 

If Radio Raheem is something of a Greek Chorus, so is Señor Love Daddy, who sits behind a window overlooking the lone city block of Brooklyn where the entire movie takes place on the summer’s hottest day, observing, commenting, and whose soothing soul, jazz, and R&B stands in stark contrast to Radio Raheem’s preferred Public Enemy. You hear that in these opposing shots, with the rap booming outside the window and Señor’s more soothing selections undulating from within. But then, not for nothing does Señor speak principally in contrasts. To wit: “Here I am. Am I here? Ya know it. It ya know.” Indeed, he is introduced proclaiming “Wake up” into his microphone, a standard greeting that in this case contains a self-evident double meaning, just as Radio Raheem reveals himself not so much a Gentle Giant as a Giant with an occasionally gentle soul.

These are significant shades of gray, all of which are brought to bear in them seeing each other through that window, not so much agreeing to disagree as respectfully acknowledging their coexistence, which foreshadows “Do the Right Thing’s” conclusion, a fit of fury preluding something less like peace than a suspension of hostilities, which gives way to the dueling quotes of MLK and Malcolm X, two sides of the same coin. It’s the Love/Hate Continuum.

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