I saw this when it was released in 1989, and it is interesting to see how little our cultural landscape has changed in almost a quarter of a century. Simmering with racial tension between Italian-Americans, African-Americans, and newer immigrants in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, we follow a wildly diverse cast of characters, young and old, black and white, all at different points in their lives, on one of the hottest days of the year (I just re-watched it during our own heatwave here on the West Coast). As the temperature rises, so do tempers, and by nightfall, things reach a frightening, violent boiling point.
What struck me upon this viewing is how the structure of this engaging film is nearly Shakespearean. It is a remarkably well constructed film, moving effortlessly from comedy to drama, shifting from one area of the neighborhood to another, from one character to another, from one story to another. There is even a trio of guys hanging out on a corner of the neighborhood, watching and commenting on what they see, serving as a kind of Greek chorus.
There is a beautiful sequence where Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a local DJ broadcasting from a radio station on the block, reads a roll call of black musicians. It is a stunning list, and a goosebump moment as it goes on and on, hearing all those legendary names together in one spot. Take a listen:
And as I mentioned, the 80s seems like a long way off (all those neon tank tops and fanny packs really pinpoint a certain time period!), but as Bill Maher joked recently, thank god our United States Supreme Court just struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act that protected black voters, citing that such protection is just no longer needed, so we can get back to what our culture at large is truly concerned about: the Trayvon Martin case and Paula Deen using the n-word. No longer needed? Post-racial country? Black President?
Recommend? YES. It is really a remarkable film.