Cinematography is the dimension of art that combines multiple ways of expressing the ideas. With the help of a variety of narrative strategies and cinematic techniques, directors are able not only to entertain the audiences but also encourage them to think about serious social issues. One of the most popular subjects portrayed in the movies is the life in the city and its discourse. Film creators try to reflect the acutest problems of modern cities and the people living in them. Out of a vast variety of the movies dedicated to the issue of contradictions and ambiguities of the American cities, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing occupy a prominent place.
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Do the Right Thing as the Reflection of Contradictions in City Life
Spike Lee created his famous movie about three decades ago, but the issues raised in it have not lost their actuality. The film is considered as a “masterpiece” for depicting such serious issues as social inequality and the division of people’s life opportunities depending on their origin and place in the city (Larson). The major theme in Do the Right Thing is the one of love and hate. However, the director did much more than that.
Rather than showing the relationships between a boyfriend and a girlfriend, he demonstrated how the city could govern people’s lives and attitudes. Lee did not only think about making his name famous in the world of cinematography. The director wanted America to “look in the mirror” and realize how living in the city could impact people’s lives (Haber). By showing the state of affairs in one neighborhood, Lee demonstrated the way in which the majority of the cities were arranged.
The city in Do the Right Thing is represented as a place where all the power is in the hands of white Americans. They may have allowed the minorities to live in the neighborhood and even do some business there. However, they never let the African-Americans relax even for a minute and forget about the divergences that existed between them (Do the Right Thing). New York’s borough, Brooklyn is depicted as a place full of hostility and rage. Not only White Americans express their dissatisfaction with the Blacks’ music preferences and behavior. Even the Italians allow themselves to show contempt for the African-American people.
As the heat increases both in the direct and indirect meaning, Lee shows how small misunderstandings between the representatives of different groups of people living in the same city can lead to dramatic and even tragic outcomes. However, there is also one positive thing mentioned in regard to ethnic differences. When the conflict becomes too intense, a Korean man refuses to support the majority and says that he is “not white” (Do the Right Thing).
In such a way, Lee shows another peculiarity of city life. Different minority groups may fight with one another, but when there appears a danger to one of them, others would rather support the minorities than the major group.
In 1989, when Do the Right Thing was released, some critics expected it to ignite cruelty and disorder (Larson). However, those expectations did not become true. What Lee did, rather than inflaming violence, was telling the story of how the city accepts or rejects different people depending on their origin. Contradictions between people constitute the basis for significant conflicts that were depicted in the movie in the most proficient way. The director admitted that the film was not “just about New York City” but about the whole world (Haber). The problem of misunderstanding risen from racism constitutes a serious issue in modern American cities.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as the Depiction of Social Inequality in the City
While Lee chose a narrow theme of city life to demonstrate in his film, Lang’s Metropolis showed the most general characteristic feature of urban life: the difference between the representatives of higher and lower social levels. In Lang’s movie, the emphasis is not on the relationships between certain ethnic groups. Rather, it tells the story of inequality between the rich and the poor and the ways in which they co-exist in cities.
Metropolis does not depict a concrete city but describes the life in a futuristic environment (Metropolis). However, ninety years after the film’s release, its theme is still rather actual. Modern American city life is quite similar to what was depicted in Metropolis. People seem to exist in two different worlds, and those who are lucky enough to be successful and prosperous seem not to notice the ones who are poor and needy.
Although the film was mute, special effects were its speech (St. Pierre 62). The director managed to convey the atmosphere of inequality between two large groups of people living in the city. There were those who enjoyed the merits of exquisite life possibilities and did not feel the lack of anything. The opposite group of people was represented by poor and unhappy city inhabitants who had no other choice but strenuous work to stay alive.
People engaged in business in Lang’s Metropolis were determined not to give any allowances to their employees, considering them merely as workforce. It still holds true for the modern American cities where those who have achieved something quickly forget how difficult it was to reach their goal and do not want to help anyone in need. In the movie, there is a strict division between the exuberant lifestyle of the city rulers and the workers. As Joh Fredersen says to his son, the city builders belong to “the depth” (Metropolis). By saying so, he means that there is no right to any joy or happiness for poor people.
Metropolis is considered as one of the most brilliant films of all times (Leftridge and Pick). However, it were not only the cinematographic achievements that made it so popular. The fame was gained because of the central problem of the movie and the way the director explained it to the audience through a variety of techniques.
Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis are the movies that depict the American city life in the most precise manner. Both films tell the story of inequality and injustice prevailing in the relationships between people living in the cities. In Lee’s story, the focus is on racial prejudice and fights between different ethnic minority groups. In Lang’s movie, there is the depiction of unfair division of merits and responsibilities between the ruling class in society and the workers. Although there is a considerable time disparity between the two films, they are both related to each other and the present-day American city life.
Do the Right Thing. Directed by Spike Lee, performances by Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, and Rosie Perez, Universal Pictures, 1989.
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Haber, Matt. “The Little Known Story Behind Do the Right Thing.” Mental Floss. 2015. Web.
Larson, Sarah. “”Do the Right Thing” at Twenty-Five.” The New Yorker. 2014. Web.
Leftridge, Steve, and Steve Pick. “Double Take: Metropolis (1927).” Pop Matters. 2015. Web.
Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang, performances by Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and Brigitte Helm, UFA, 1927.
St. Pierre, Paul Matthew. Cinematography in the Weimar Republic: Lola Lola, Dirty Singles, and the Men Who Shot Them. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016.