Friday, July 31, 2009

Angry Reader--that's my name, uh, uh, uh

I wouldn't make a great Quick Kick because I don't do the barefoot thing even though I'm Asian. I prefer to wear Lugzs all the time, even to the shower.
"Quick Kick is angry, too. Why does he have to be bare-chested all the time? Even on an episode of G.I. Joe when he's fighting the enemy outside and it's snowing?"

--one of my favorite quotes from angry asian man


I'm honored to be angry asian man's Angry Reader of the Week.

Here's a sneak peek of the Q&A:
I'm Filipino.
And this concludes the sneak peek. Juicy, huh?

Peep the Q&A now. Thanks, Phil.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jam masters, sketch faster: Secret Identities' San Diego Comic-Con '09 jam piece

At Comic-Con, Secret Identities fans were asked to go on a con floor scavenger hunt to collect 10 signatures of contributors from the book and then enter their names into a drawing. The winner of the drawing would receive a jam piece of Asian American superheroes drawn by artists who participated in the book, or in the case of Larry Hama, almost participated (but has given the book his blessing and even lent his mug to a cartoonized version of himself).

Jimmy J. Aquino prepares to sketch June Park for a jam piece. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Either Parry Shen or Keith Chow invited me to jam. I practiced my jam piece contribution on a separate piece of paper before getting to work on the actual jam piece. Keith was kind enough to help shoot footage of me with my tiny Aiptek HD camcorder while I sketched (this pic is actually a capture from the footage). The camcorder, which doubles as a still camera, particularly fascinated Ming Doyle and Keiko Agena's husband, who told me he'd now like to have a similar camera.

'Sampler' heroine June Park by Jimmy J. Aquino.
At first, I tried to sketch out an Asian American version of Batman, but it looked terrible (I stuck a yin-yang symbol on his cowl), so I opted to draw "Sampler" character June Park instead.

Drawing June is something I rarely do--I prefer to leave that task to the professionals--so I had to pause for a few minutes and brainstorm how June would look on the jam piece. While I'm brainstorming during the camcorder footage, Keith can be heard joking, "This is riveting television."

The final result, a collage of drawings by Hama, Ming, Bernard Chang, Benton Jew, Tiffanie Hwang, Jerry Ma, Gene Yang, Sonny Liew and myself, looks dope and was inked by Walden Wong.

The Secret Identities San Diego Comic-Con 2009 jam piece, illustrated by Bernard Chang, Jimmy J. Aquino, Benton Jew, Tiffanie Hwang, Jerry Ma, Ming Doyle, Larry Hama, Gene Yang and Sonny Liew and inked by Walden Wong.
Top row: Asian (and most likely lactose-intolerant) Hulk by Bernard and June Park of "Sampler" by yours truly.

Center row: Jimson Po from Jeff Yang's "Driving Steel" by Benton, a Ninja Turtle by Tiffanie, a character whose name escapes me by Jerry and X-Men member Jubilee by Ming.

Bottom row: Snake Eyes by Hama, the Monkey King by Gene and a trademark Sonny Liew pairing of a kid and a robot.

Congrats, Orange, California resident Cecil DeClaro, the proud owner of our jam piece, which is already a collector's item because of the debut of Asian Hulk ("Mr. McGee, don't make me hungry. You wouldn't like me when I'm hungry.").

[Via Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Blog]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One day of San Diego Comic-Con '09 is all I can take

'Exterminate!' is what I wish I could say and do to haters of the Asian American ComiCon who are these 'I don't see race' types like Stephen Colbert's onscreen alter ego and who post on message boards that there shouldn't be an AACC. Photo by Jimmy J. Aquino.
Like angry asian man blogger and Secret Identities booster Phil Yu (more on him later), I picked only one day to attend San Diego Comic-Con '09, and one day is really all I can tolerate of the overwhelming, overcrowded and smelly Nerd Prom.

My favorite aspect of Comic-Con is not the panels--I wasn't able to go inside any of the ones I wanted to see--but unexpectedly meeting writers and bloggers whose work I've enjoyed for several years, such as Phil. Here's my recap of Comic-Con Friday in pictures.

Pinoy Optimus Prime. Photo by Jimmy J. Aquino.
Hey Optimus, why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?

Jimmy J. Aquino and Debbie Huey. Photo courtesy of JJA.
I didn't know Bumperboy creator Debbie Huey and I worked for the same university newspaper 12 years ago until my older brother pointed it out to me recently. We never met each other because her department of City on a Hill Press never really interacted with my department. I also didn't know Secret Identities approached Debbie to contribute a story, but she had to decline. I'm glad to see another alum from the paper doing well as an author (Azadeh Moaveni is another alum from my period at the paper who's had quite a career as an author).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hello San Francisco: Snapshots of Secret Identities at Giant Robot SF

A masked admirer and Jimmy J. Aquino. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Giant Robot SF and Secret Identities editor-in-chief Jeff Yang assembled some of the novel's Bay Area-based contributors--"Just Ordinary" artist Alexander Shen, "Justified" artist Tiffanie Hwang, "Gaze" inker Walden Wong and I--for a spirited two-hour July 16 signing session at the Shrader Street store that flew by faster than a morning jog with the Flash.

"S.O.S." writer Tanuj Chopra and "The Blue Scorpion & Chung" writer Gene Yang didn't make it to the signing. Gene, whose collabo with Derek Kirk Kim, The Eternal Smile, recently hit stores, couldn't be with us because he was busy with his day job (teaching computer science at a Catholic school).

Jimmy J. Aquino, Walden Wong, Tiffanie Hwang, Jeff Yang and Luke Martinez at Giant Robot SF's Secret Identities signing session. Photo courtesy of JJA.
From left to right: myself, Walden (who has his own recap of the signing here), Tiffanie, Jeff and Giant Robot SF manager Luke Martinez stand in front of Jeff's Secret Identities slide presentation. (Not in the picture: Alexander.)

Jimmy J. Aquino signs a book. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Instead of signing each copy of Secret Identities with the same message, I wanted to challenge myself by writing a different message in each copy ("Thanks for supporting Asian American/Pacific Islander superhero comics," "I don't know you, but I love you for being a Secret Identities fan," "Stay cool. It's so damn hot out there," "Everybody in the store gettin' tipsy").

Jimmy J. Aquino, Martin Genova and Dan Genova. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Here I am with one of my older brother's former roommates, Dan Genova, and his son Martin. Dan's known me since the days when I visited my brother at his university and I tried to write the Great Asian American Novel, which I never completed (elements of this unfinished story live on in my webcomic The Palace). The Genovas' visit was a wonderful surprise.

Added on July 23, 2009: The next several photos were taken by Giant Robot. The magazine/boutique store franchise posted their complete gallery of the event here.

Jimmy J. Aquino, Martin Genova and Dan Genova. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jimmy J. Aquino takes a digital video of Jeff Yang giving a Secret Identities slide presentation. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jeff Yang gives a Secret Identities slide presentation. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jeff Yang plugs the Secret Identities booth at San Diego Comic-Con. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jeff Yang, Jimmy J. Aquino and the masked Secret Identities fan from the photo at the top of the post. Photo by Giant Robot.
Jimmy J. Aquino with the Secret Identities fan from the photo at the top of the post. Photo by Giant Robot.
Walden Wong, Alexander Shen, Tiffanie Hwang, Jeff Yang and Jimmy J. Aquino at the signing table. Photo by Giant Robot.
Many of the readers at this signing--my second signing--hadn't read Secret Identities yet but were genuinely interested in our novel. While they left Giant Robot with signed copies of our book, I left the store with a copy of Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings, which has nothing to do with superheroics. If I knew how to draw better, I'd sketch a Batman/Shortcomings mash-up in which I'd turn Ben Tanaka and Alice Kim into the Frank Quitely version of Batman and Robin. Benman would come to the rescue of a white chick, of course, while Miko Hayashi would look on disapprovingly, and Robin would be busy spitting game at another lesbian.

Thanks, Giant Robot and the Bay Area fans who came to our signing!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC), Part 2

Previously on A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog: Part 1 of my two-part recap of the AACC.

All the pics in this second AACC photo gallery were snapped on July 11, 2009 at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown with my disposable Kodak, except where noted.

Jimmy J. Aquino and Tak Toyoshima. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Secret Asian Man creator Tak Toyoshima tries to finish a commissioned strip about the AACC. The look on my face says, "You're gonna finish that today? It takes me a week to finish writing a 20-minute script for the Fistful of Soundtracks channel."

Jimmy J. Aquino and Tak Toyoshima are greeted by Kate Agathon and Lisa Hanasono of Purdue University. Photo courtesy of JJA.
Here I am signing copies of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology for my first two fans at the con, Purdue University graduate students/lecturers Kate Agathon and Lisa Hanasono.

Jimmy J. Aquino, Tak Toyoshima and Lisa Hanasono. Photo courtesy of JJA.
At one point, I accidentally mixed up the names of Kate and Lisa (far right) while talking to them from my table. I joked, "I have no Malaydar. I have trouble telling us Asians apart."

Kate Agathon, Jimmy J. Aquino and Lisa Hanasono. Photo courtesy of JJA.
From left to right: Kate, some new guy at the Secret Identities Tour and Lisa.

WHAT IF... Dick Tracy co-starred Bernadette Peters instead of Madonna?

In a far more interesting universe, Bernadette Peters killed as Breathless Mahoney in the big-budget movie version of Dick Tracy.
Steve Palopoli once said Return of the Jedi directed by David Lynch--who rejected George Lucas' offer to direct the threequel--was one of his picks for Best Cult Movies That Don't Exist. I told Steve I would have loved to have seen Ragtime directed by the filmmaker who almost directed it, Robert Altman, Sergio Leone's Leningrad, Resident Evil directed by George Romero, The Phantom directed by Joe Dante and Blazing Saddles starring Richard Pryor instead of his replacement Cleavon Little (although Little was great as Black Bart).

Other movies from alternate universes I would have dug are Out of Sight co-starring Carla Gugino (the small-screen Karen Sisco) instead of Jennifer Lopez and Dick Tracy co-starring Bernadette Peters instead of Madonna.

Bernadette Peters' voice as the Blank would have been amusing. Notice how the Blank sounds like Christian Bale as Batman.
After rewatching Warren Beatty's suddenly ubiquitous Dick Tracy (it aired during TCM's Dick Tracy movie marathon yesterday afternoon and again on Syfy this morning because when I think sci-fi, I think Dick Tracy), I checked out film historian Glenn Erickson's DVD Savant review of the 1990 adaptation of Chester Gould's comic strip. I agreed with Erickson's comment on Madonna's performance as femme fatale Breathless Mahoney: "you can't help but picture Bernadette Peters in the role, singing better and being sexier too."

Peters, a frequent Stephen Sondheim interpreter, would have been perfect as Breathless, who sings several original Sondheim-penned tunes during Dick Tracy. But Peters wasn't banging Beatty at the time, so we were stuck with Madonna.

Bernadette Peters in Silent Movie
A better actress than Madonna (whose best performance was in her big-studio follow-up to Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own), Peters would have been more at ease than Madonna with the humorous side of the mostly humorless Breathless role. Plus, even though Peters is older, she's far more attractive (she's so hot in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie). I'm entertained by Peters' vocal skills--and how her dress barely stays on--during this taste of what Dick Tracy would have been like with Peters as Breathless. It's her performance of Dick Tracy's "Sooner or Later" from a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

"In this movie, this song was sung by a blond bombshell... not me," Peters says in my favorite part of her intro to "Sooner or Later." "Although we both have religious names."

Dick Tracy: Big City Blues by John Moore and Kyle Baker
If you can find Disney Comics' Star Trek: Countdown-style two-part prequel to Beatty's Dick Tracy, it's worth checking out. I remember buying as a kid the Dick Tracy: Big City Blues and Dick Tracy vs. the Underworld graphic novels, which were my first exposure to the art of then-rising star Kyle Baker. What I would give to see Baker's original cut of the prequel, before the famously narcissistic Beatty insisted on forcing Baker to redo the comics so that Dick's likeness would look more like Beatty than the Chester Gould version.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC) was also my first book signing

Yep, I got my book signing cherry popped at the AACC.

Cliff Chiang, Keith Chow, Parry Shen and Jimmy J. Aquino by Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo
From left to right: Cliff Chiang (with Keith Chow kneeling down at Cliff's left side), Parry Shen and I sign copies of Secret Identities at the AACC at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown on Saturday, July 11 (photo by Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo). At the center of the table, you can see a bottle of hand sanitizer, which an unknown person left for us. I guess he or she was inspired by the following photo, which is from the "I Touched You with My Nerd Cooties, Beth Cooper" collection...

Stain the cheerleader, stain the world.
... and wanted to make sure we got as much protection from the unwashed masses as possible.

At the next ComiCon, the congoers will have to step through a decontamination shower before they enter, although I think the contestants of Rock of Love: Criminal Intent would need it more.

Cliff Chiang, Ken Wong, Jimmy J. Aquino, Jef Castro and Jeremy Arambulo by Kate Agathon
From left to right: Cliff, Ken Wong, me, Jef Castro and Jeremy Arambulo entertain--or are entertained by--the witty and surprisingly decent-smelling fans at our signing session (photo by Kate Agathon).

AFOS: "I'll Kill You and Recommend to God That He Put His Foot in Your Ass" playlist

Airing tomorrow at 10am and 3pm on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel is the Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series episode "I'll Kill You and Recommend to God That He Put His Foot in Your Ass" (WEB89) from June 18-24, 2007. In WEB89, I picked out my favorite score cues from obscure spaghetti westerns I've never watched like Keoma and Life Is Tough, Eh Providence? One of those tunes is the Viva Django cue "Nel Cimitero Di Tucson," which Gnarls Barkley sampled for their 2006 hit "Crazy."

The ep's title is a play on the title of the 1968 spaghetti western I'll Kill You and Recommend You to God, a.k.a. Dead for a Dollar.

Django main titles
1. Ennio Morricone, "Main Titles" (from Face to Face), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Three, DRG
2. Roberto Fia, "Django" (from Django), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Two, DRG
3. Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, "Keoma (instrumental)," Keoma, Cinedelic
4. Dandylion, "Wolf," Mannaja, Cometa
5. Stelvio Cipriani, "Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola," The Bounty Killer/Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola/Nevada, CAM
6. Stelvio Cipriani, "Faccia a Terra" (from Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola), The Bounty Killer/Un Uomo, Un Cavallo, Una Pistola/Nevada, CAM
7. Franco Bixio, "Just a Coward (instrumental)" (from And Now Recommend Your Soul to God), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG
8. Gianfranco and Gian Piero Reverberi, "Nel Cimitero Di Tucson," Preparati La Bara!, RCA
9. Ennio Morricone, "The Hellbenders" (from The Hellbenders), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Two, DRG
10. Ennio Morricone, "Main Titles" (from Life Is Tough, Eh Providence?), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Three, DRG
11. Bruno Nicolai, "The Man Called Apocalypse Joe--Sequence 1" (from The Man Called Apocalypse Joe), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume Four, DRG
12. Augusto Martelli, "M 9 and M 15 V" (from La Collera Del Vento), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG
13. Angelo Francisco Lavagnino, "A Gambling Man (Versione Strumentale)," 5000 Dollari sull'Asso, CAM
14. Piero Umiliani, "Suite" (from Roy Colt & Winchester Jack), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG
15. Gianni Ferrio, "Controluce" (from Ben and Charlie), Spaghetti Westerns, Volume One, DRG

Repeats of A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series air Wednesdays at 10am and 3pm.

Monday, July 13, 2009

AFOS: "Super Groover Mama Dalai Lama" playlist

Starting tomorrow, the 2003 Fistful of Soundtracks: The Series episode "Super Groover Mama Dalai Lama" (WEB09) airs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4am, 10am, 3pm, 7pm and 11pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 7am, 9am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm for the rest of July on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel. WEB09 first aired during the week of April 21-27, 2003. I haven't aired "Super Groover Mama" on the channel since '03 and was recently surprised to find it's a pretty good early episode from my archives.

I took the ep's title from a lyric in the album version of "Ask DNA," which Yoko Kanno and lyricist Tim Jensen wrote for the opening titles of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (an animated feature that had a better title in Japan, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, which resumed the Bebop TV series' tradition of naming eps after classic rock tunes). "Ask DNA" is one of 10 original opening theme songs on the WEB09 playlist that are either quirky, out-of-place or incomprehensible (during the "Thunderball" recording session, Tom Jones asked John Barry "What's a thunderball?"--something I wondered too when I first heard the song but hadn't seen the movie yet--and Barry responded to Jones with "Just sing it, Tom").

There's a mistake during this ep. I said Jon Brion's terrific "Here We Go" is from the Punch-Drunk Love score. Actually, "Here We Go," the vocal version of Brion's main Punch-Drunk Love theme, isn't used at all during the movie (however, Columbia Pictures used "Here We Go" during its Punch-Drunk Love TV spots). I didn't know "Here We Go" wasn't in the movie because I hadn't watched it yet when I recorded WEB09.

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie opening titles
1. Seatbelts featuring Raju Ramayya, "Ask DNA" (from Cowboy Bebop: The Movie), Ask DNA, Victor
2. Jon Brion, "Here We Go," Punch-Drunk Love, Nonesuch
3. Isaac Hayes, "Buns O'Plenty" (from Three Tough Guys), Double Feature: Music from the Soundtracks of Three Tough Guys & Truck Turner, Stax
4. Tom Jones, "Thunderball--Main Title," Thunderball, EMI/Capitol
5. Elmer Bernstein, "Frankie Machine" (from The Man with the Golden Arm), Crime Jazz: Music in the First Degree, Rhino
6. Elmer Bernstein, "Autumn in Connecticut," Far from Heaven, Varèse Sarabande
7. Randy Newman, "A Fool in Love," Meet the Parents, DreamWorks
8. Yoko Kanno, "N.Y. Rush," Cowboy Bebop: Blue, Victor
9. The Dust Brothers, "Hessel, Raymond K.," Fight Club, Restless
10. Badly Drawn Boy, "Something to Talk About," About a Boy, ARTISTdirect/Twisted Nerve/XL/BMG
11. Willie Hutch, "I Choose You" (from The Mack), Pimps, Players & Private Eyes, Rhyme Syndicate/Sire/Warner Bros.
12. Queen, "Flash's Theme," Flash Gordon, Hollywood
13. Craig Safan, "Confrontation," Thief, Elektra
14. The MASH, "Suicide Is Painless" (from M*A*S*H), Movie Music: The Definitive Performances, Columbia/Epic/Legacy
15. The Five Blobs, "The Blob" (from The Blob), Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits Vol. 3: The Uninvited, TVT
16. The Hollies and Peter Sellers, "After the Fox," After the Fox, Rykodisc
17. Mark Mothersbaugh, "Kite Flying Society," Rushmore, London
18. Simon Brint, "Julverset," Monarch of the Glen, BBC Music
19. Howard Shore, "The Riders of Rohan," The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Reprise/WMG Soundtracks
20. Curtis Mayfield, "Freddie's Dead (instrumental version)," Superfly: Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition, Curtom/Rhino
21. Michael Brook, "Bar-B-Que," Charlotte Sometimes, Visionbox Pictures
22. Semiautomatic, "Can't Spell," Better Luck Tomorrow, MTV Films
23. Duran Duran, "A View to a Kill" (from A View to a Kill), The Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Limited Edition, EMI
24. The Dickies, "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" (from Killer Klowns from Outer Space), Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits Vol. 3: The Uninvited, TVT
25. Bernard Herrmann, "Prelude/Outer Space/Radar" (from The Day the Earth Stood Still), Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits Vol. 3: The Uninvited, TVT
26. John Williams, "Finale and End Title March," Superman: The Movie, Warner Archives/Rhino
27. John Williams, "Love Theme from Superman," Superman: The Movie, Warner Archives/Rhino
28. Jerry Goldsmith, "End Titles (Your Zowie Face)" (from In Like Flint), In Like Flint/Our Man Flint, Varèse Sarabande

I'll be at another Secret Identities book signing: Giant Robot Sucka Free on July 16

Secret Identities' July 16, 2009 Giant Robot SF event postcard

Coming soon to this blog is a recap of my first book signing at last Saturday's Asian American ComiCon. (Secret Identities artists Jerry Ma and Jeremy Arambulo have recapped the event in photos on their respective blogs.) The AACC will be immediately followed by my second book signing.

Secret Identities editor-in-chief Jeff Yang and Bay Area-based Secret Identities contributors such as myself, Alexander Shen, Tanuj Chopra, Tiffanie Hwang and Walden Wong will sign copies of the novel at a special book-release party at Giant Robot SF, 618 Shrader St., San Francisco, this Thursday, July 16 at 6pm.

'Now There's Something: Greg LaRocque' by Keith Chow and Alexander Shen

Alexander drew "Just Ordinary" and an interview with "Trinity" writer/illustrator and Flash artist Greg LaRocque.

'S.O.S.' by Tanuj Chopra and Alex Joon Kim

Tanuj wrote the SNL commercial parody-style "S.O.S."

'Justified' by Ken Wong and Tiffanie Hwang

Tiffanie drew "Justified."

'Gaze' by Sung Kang of 'The Motel,' Billy Tan, Walden Wong and Sean Ellery
Walden inked the one-page pinup "Gaze," which features a character created by Sung Kang (who's best known as Han the badass mentor in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift but whose real career highlight is his performance as a not-so-slick mentor in the terrific coming-of-age indie flick The Motel).

Secret Identities Bay Area chapter, represent!

[Via Alexander]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Anderson Tapes: "America, man! You know, it's so beautiful I wanna eat it!"

'America, man! You know, it's so beautiful I wanna eat it!'
I can't think of a more fitting quote to put at the top of this Fourth of July Weekend blog post. It's a standout line uttered early on by Christopher Walken in his big-studio debut, the 1971 Columbia Pictures heist flick The Anderson Tapes.

I finally got around to watching The Anderson Tapes the other day. Before Sidney Lumet's nifty little caper made its debut on DVD in September as part of Sony's "Martini Movies" imprint (uh, Sony, I think you missed the lounge movement by about 10 years), it was on my list of films I--a fan of '70s heist flicks like the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Hot Rock--wanted to watch but wasn't able to because they weren't available on disc.

I always dug the Smackwater Jack version of Quincy Jones' Anderson Tapes theme, which features the late Freddie Hubbard on flugelhorn and a nice harmonica solo by Toots Thielemans. That version of the theme actually never turns up during Jones' unreleased, love-it-or-hate-it score, which is filled with early synthesizer bloops and squeals due to the paranoid film's subject of pre-Watergate (and pre-Conversation) surveillance.

The Randomatic sits in storage somewhere with other hilariously now-outdated '70s and '80s gadgets like that Etch-a-Sketch-ish police sketch machine from For Your Eyes Only and the Daggit from the old Battlestar Galactica.
Some viewers find the bloops and squeals to be grating and distracting, while I don't mind them at all. Jones' bloops and squeals--along with the now-goofy-looking Randomatic computer that's used by the film's NYPD officer characters to pull up criminal records--lend The Anderson Tapes a certain analog charm. The groovetastic sound effects remind me of the electronic noises during Roman Coppola's amusing 2001 film about the making of a low-budget French sci-fi flick, CQ, which takes place in the same era.

'Isch that a Lakers jersey under your skirt? Take the bloody thing off! You know I'm all aboat the Knicks.'
Sean Connery ditched the 007 hairpiece--or rather, chose a more revealing hairpiece--to star as Duke Anderson, a newly freed, unrepentant ex-con who plots an elaborate Labor Day heist at the ritzy Fifth Avenue apartment building of his high-priced hooker girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon). In other Connery/Lumet collabos, particularly The Hill and The Offence (when's that film going to hit DVD?), Lumet clearly loved giving Connery speeches that were long and fiery (yet not overwrought). Eager to move past his rather limited 007 persona, Connery excelled at those speeches, and he pulled off another juicy one here, an anti-authority screed that's more Cool Hand Luke than 007, courtesy of Cool Hand Luke screenwriter Frank Pierson ("What's advertising but a legalized con game? And what the hell's marriage? Extortion, prostitution, soliciting with a government stamp on it.").

Duke Anderson failed to deprive people of their money on Labor Day Weekend without getting caught. He should have just started his own Labor Day telethon for broke ex-cons who can't hack it outside prison.
Anderson's crew includes a younger safecracker known simply as "the Kid" (Walken, whose eccentric line delivery is made even weirder by the fact that he really does look like a kid here), unflappable getaway driver Spencer (Dick Anthony Williams) and gay antiques dealer Tommy (if acting styles were KFC recipes, Martin Balsam's would be Extra Swishy). They'd be the tightest crew in the history of caper movies, if they weren't so oblivious to then-recent advances in surveillance technology, which have allowed government agents or cops to illegally monitor the activities of everyone Anderson comes into contact with, from his associates to his girlfriend. Those lawmen aren't even interested in Anderson's next score. They've been spying on everyone in Anderson's circle because of unrelated improprieties, whether past or alleged. Black Panther-hating Feds are profiling Spencer, who lives near a Panther Party chapter, the IRS is keeping tabs on Anderson's Mafioso benefactor (Alan King), and Ingrid's jealous sugar daddy (Richard B. Schull) has hired a private detective to listen in on her trysts with her clients.

'We're gonna rob every single copy of 'Zardoz,' 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,' 'The Country Bears' and 'Gigli' we can find and then lock them away in a vault, never to be found again. Are you in, kid?'In The Anderson Tapes (which the creatively bankrupt Sony has been attempting to remake, and I hope the box-office failure of their Pelham remake discourages them), it's interesting to see narrative devices and character types Lumet would revisit in later, better-known works. Lumet jumbled the Labor Day heist's time frame--a gimmick the director would re-use in The Offence and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. The flashbacks to the heist are less distracting here than in Before the Devil. The crooked cops of Serpico, Prince of the City and Night Falls on Manhattan are cut from the same cloth as the lawmen who illegally bug or wiretap Anderson's cohorts (the only likable cop in The Anderson Tapes is a resourceful SWAT team leader played by a pre-SNL Garrett Morris). The victims of Anderson's heist get some standout lines and are as fleshed out as Al Pacino's hostages from my favorite Lumet film, 1975's Dog Day Afternoon. The heist sequence's tension is offset by some welcome comic relief from Judith Lowry as an elderly resident who doesn't seem to mind being robbed (Lowry was the same ornery old lady who stole scenes in Norman Lear's not-yet-on-DVD satire Cold Turkey, also released in 1971).

If you can find Walken's obscure 2000 indie movie The Opportunists, in which he plays a world-weary safecracker whose mentorship of a younger crook carries echoes of the Connery character's mentorship of Walken's upstart safecracker, it would make for an intriguing double feature with The Anderson Tapes. Walken's performance in The Opportunists--it's Walken in not-so-weird Catch Me If You Can mode--is one of his most underrated. Too bad The Opportunists is rather listless for a caper flick. Compared to the fun and nail-biting Anderson Tapes, The Opportunists is--to borrow a line from one of Walken's many quotable SNL sketches--a Stiffly Stifferson.

Friday, July 3, 2009

First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC) posts schedule; Jimmy J. Aquino to sign Secret Identities at AACC and refer to himself in the third person

'S.A.M. Meets Larry Hama' by Asian American ComiCon guest Tak Toyoshima
On Saturday, July 11, I'll be in NYC for the First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC), which will take place for only one day because the Man won't give us two.

AACC will mark the first time I'll ever sign anything I wrote. Like Adam West, I charge $45 for an autograph. Make the check out to...

Alright, I'm kidding.

At AACC, there will be lots of interesting panels and lots of instances of me having to explain who I am ("Yeah, I'm the fourth Basco brother. What's crackin'? I'm Ta Basco.").

The organizers of the First Annual Asian American ComiCon (AACC) have announced the complete Featured Guest list and final Schedule of Events for this celebration of the unique contemporary role and historical legacy of Asians and Asian Americans in the world of graphic fiction, which will take place Saturday, July 11, 2009 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre Street in New York).

Confirmed Special Guests Include:
• Larry Hama (writer, G.I. Joe)
• Bernard Chang (artist, Wonder Woman)
• Cliff Chiang (artist, Green Arrow)
• Derek Kirk Kim (artist, The Eternal Smile)
• Greg Pak (writer, Incredible Hulk)
• Khoi Pham (artist, Mighty Avengers)
• Sean Chen (artist, Iron Man)
• Christina Strain (colorist, Runaways)
• Fred Chao (writer/artist, Johnny Hiro)
• Christine Norrie (artist, Breaking Up)
• Tak Toyoshima (writer/artist, Secret Asian Man)
• Misako Rocks! (writer/artist, Biker Girl)
• Kuo-Yu Liang (VP Sales & Marketing, Diamond Book Distributors)
• Sharad Devarajan (CEO, Liquid Comics)
• William F. Wu (writer, Hong on the Range)
• The Editors of Secret Identities (

Other special guests of the con will include: Ben Nugent, author, American Nerd; Hua Hsu, professor, Vassar College; Ed Lin, author of Waylaid and This Is a Bust; Monica Ferrell, author, The Answer Is Always Yes; Monica Youn, author, Ignatz (forthcoming); Vyshali Manivannan, author, Invictus; Paolo Javier, author, 60 lv Bo(e)mbs; Jennifer Lee, former editor, Marvel Comics and DC Comics; Kai-Ming Cha, comics and manga reporter, Publishers Weekly; Aimee Bahng, assistant professor, English, Dartmouth College; Ken Okabayashi, founder of Piggy Back Studios; Tyler Chin-Tanner, artist/writer, American Terrorist; Daniel Ketchum, editor, Marvel Comics; Karl Taro Greenfield, author, Speed Tribes; and Arune Singh, sales coordinator, Marvel Comics.

In addition, the following creators will be participating in the AACC’s Artists Alley, and will conduct signing and sketch sessions throughout the day. Each artist will also donate an original sketch for AACC’s silent auction, proceeds to benefit the nonprofit Museum of Chinese in America.

• Jimmy J. Aquino (writer, “Sampler,” SECRET IDENTITIES)
• Jeremy Arambulo (writer/artist, ROGUE SOUP & BUG)
• Bernard Chang (artist, WONDER WOMAN)
• Sean Chen (artist, IRON MAN)
• Tyler Chin-Tanner (writer/artist, AMERICAN TERRORIST)
• Robin Ha (writer/artist, THE MAGIC 8-BALL)
• Dongyun Lee (writer/artist, ZOOM)
• Yali Lin (writer/artist, SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET)
• Jerry Ma (art director, SECRET IDENTITIES)
• Allan Norico (writer/artist, THINGS I’VE SEEN AT SHOWS)
• Khoi Pham (artist, MIGHTY AVENGERS)
• Misako Rocks! (writer/artist, BIKER GIRL)
• Sarah Sapang (artist, “16 Miles,” SECRET IDENTITIES)
• Christina Strain (colorist, RUNAWAYS)
• Alex Tarampi (artist, “Gaman,” SECRET IDENTITIES)
• Tak Toyoshima (writer/artist, SECRET ASIAN MAN)
• Paul Wei (writer/artist, THE ADVENTURES OF MAXWELL & GRANDMA)
• Ken Wong (writer/artist, SCHRODINGER’S CAT)

The event will be divided into three tracks: Reading Comics, Making Comics, and Creator Spotlight. Each track includes a diverse range of interactive and immersive panels and workshops, featuring leading Asian and Asian American figures from comics, literature and academia.

Reading Comics

How do we read comic books today? This track answers this question by putting comic book artists at the same table with novelists, professors and industry professionals. A mash-up of fan convention, Asian American studies conference and literary festival, this one-of-a-kind series of panels and readings confronts pressing issues, such as the globalization of pop culture, the representation of Asian Americans in comics, and, of course, the nature of nerdiness.

Sessions Include:

· Nerdpop: The Rise of the Nerds!: Asian Americans have long been stereotyped as “nerds,” but nerdiness has become something to celebrate. With the rise of digital culture and the mainstreaming of comic books and other once nerdy genres, nerds have gone from persecuted minority to masters of the universe. This panel examines the historical development of nerd identity, particularly among Asian Americans, and the aesthetics of nerd pride. Moderated by Hua Hsu, professor, English, Vassar College, featuring panelists Ben Nugent, author, American Nerd; Derek Kirk Kim, artist/writer, Same Difference & Other Stories; and Keith Chow, senior editor, Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology

· Every Comic Is Asian American: The most prominent Asian American comic characters have typically been slanty-eyed sidekicks and supervillains, speaking in broken English and colored the shade of school buses. This panel starts with an all-star line-up of novelists and poets re-imagining their favorite comic book characters as Asian American and continues with a panel of professors, artists, and journalists discussing how Asian Americans have been represented in graphic novels. Moderated by Ken Chen, executive director of The Asian American Writers’ Workshop, featuring panelists like Ed Lin, author, Waylaid and This Is a Bust; Monica Ferrell, author, The Answer Is Always Yes; Monica Youn, author, Ignatz (forthcoming); Vyshali Manivannan, author, Invictus; Paolo Javier, author, 60 lv Bo(e)mbs; and Karl Taro Greenfeld, author, Speed Tribes

· The Asianization of Pop Culture: The rise of the graphic novel could really be described as the Asianization of American pop culture. In fact, the graphic novel renaissance has in many ways been powered by the popularity of manga, Japanese comics that still account for half of the new comics released in the America today. Panelists discuss the influence of manga, manhwa, and anime on American comics and American pop culture more generally. Moderated by Kai-Ming Cha, comics and manga reporter, Publishers Weekly, featuring panelists Aimee Bahng, assistant professor, English, Dartmouth College; Kuo-Yu Liang, VP, Sales & Marketing, Diamond Book Distributors; Ken Okabayashi, founder of Piggy Back Studios; and Misako Rocks!, artist/writer, Biker Girl

· The New Villains: Muslim insurgents. Chinese spies. North Korean dictators. Is it just us, or are Asians increasingly being cast in the role of the global evildoer? What’s the history of the portrayal of villainous Asians in comics and cartoon art, how does that history shape what we’re seeing in those fields today, and what does this mean for Asians and Asian Americans in the real world? Moderated by Jeff Yang, editor-in-chief, Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, featuring panelists Larry Hama, creator, G.I. Joe mythology; William F. Wu, author, Hong on the Range and The Yellow Peril; Tyler Chin-Tanner, artist/writer, American Terrorist; and Sharad Devarajan, CEO, Liquid Comics

Track Two: Making Comics
This track focuses on the art and business of making comics— from alt-comics and literary graphic fiction to mainstream superhero books and syndicated strips. Featured workshops will include a hands-on demonstration by leading creators; explorations of the business side of comics; and other sessions highlighting comics as a profession, a discipline, an art form and a commercial landscape.

Sessions include:

· Writers’ Bloc: Writers of indie and superhero comics and a syndicated comic strip discuss the craft of scripting sequential art and their strategies for tackling everyday creative challenges. Moderated by Greg Pak, writer, The Incredible Hulk and War Machine, featuring panelists Fred Chao, artist/writer, Johnny Hiro; Larry Hama, creator, G.I. Joe mythology; Christine Norrie, artist/writer, Cheat; and Tak Toyoshima, artist/writer, Secret Asian Man

· Visual Storytelling—The Art of Collaboration: Top graphical storytellers share their experiences and tips for making the most of the challenges and opportunities of collaboration between pencillers, inkers, colorists, and writers. Moderated by Greg Pak, writer, The Incredible Hulk and War Machine, featuring panelists Sean Chen, artist, Iron Man; Daniel Ketchum, editor, Marvel Comics; Derek Kirk Kim, artist/writer, Same Difference & Other Stories; Khoi Pham, artist, Mighty Avengers; and Christina Strain, colorist, Runaways

· Visual Storytelling—Hands On: A diverse group of acclaimed artists sketch in real time as they discuss their different approaches in making creative choices. Moderated by Greg Pak, writer, The Incredible Hulk and War Machine, featuring panelists Bernard Chang, artist, Wonder Woman; Fred Chao, artist/writer, Johnny Hiro; Cliff Chiang, artist, Green Arrow/Black Canary; and Misako Rocks!, artist/writer, Biker Girl

· The Business of Comics: For anyone who’s ever dreamed of joining the comics world, here’s your chance to get an insider’s look at the commercial side of graphical storytelling. Comic book pros from every corner of the biz introduce their fields and discuss breaking in, maintaining a career, and keeping up with what the future has in store. Moderated by Jennifer Lee, former editor, Marvel and DC Comics, featuring panelists Bernard Chang, artist, Wonder Woman; Fletcher Chu-Fong, manager, Events & Retail, DC Comics; Kuo-Yu Liang, VP, Sales & Marketing, Diamond Book Distributors; Arune Singh, sales coordinator, Marvel Comics; Tak Toyoshima, artist/writer, Secret Asian Man; and Sharad Devarajan, CEO, Liquid Comics

Track Three: CREATOR SPOTLIGHT Sessions
In this track top comics creators paired with interesting counterparts (outside of comics) for one-on-one discussions covering craft, inspirations and influences, shared themes and future collaborations.

Sessions Include:

· Similar Differences—SPOTLIGHT on Derek Kirk Kim: A candid discussion with the brilliant author and artist of Same Difference and Other Stories and co-creator, with Gene Yang, of the new graphic novel The Eternal Smile. Moderated by Jeff Yang, editor-in-chief, Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology

· From Chop-Chop to Silver Samurai—SPOTLIGHT ON: William F. Wu: A guided tour with science fiction legend William F. Wu, as he shares samples from his collection of thousands of comics depicting Asian images…good, bad, and definitely ugly. Moderated by Jeff Yang, editor-in-chief, Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology

· Hama Time!—SPOTLIGHT on Larry Hama: Catching up with comics pioneer Larry Hama, creator of the G.I. Joe universe and winner of this year’s KIYAMA AWARD! Moderated by Keith Chow, senior editor, Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology

All tracks are open to all AACC registrants; however, to manage traffic flow and seating, we will ask registrants to tentatively identify which sessions they intend to join upon receiving confirmation of their attendance. Space for some sessions is limited, and will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, with VIP Pass holders receiving priority.

Tickets for the nonprofit Asian American ComiCon are $15 for students, $25 for adults (18 and older), and $75 for a special VIP Pass, entitling the bearer to priority reserved seating at all panels and workshops, a complimentary Asian American graphic novel, signed by its creators, and an original sketch from one of the artists participating in the event’s Artists Alley. Registration will be limited to 250 attendees, and is available in advance through the following link:

In addition, DISCOUNTED ADMISSIONS are available through the following sponsoring organizations. TO REGISTER AT DISCOUNTED RATES, CALL BEATRICE CHEN at the Museum of Chinese in America, 212.619.4785 x104 and provide an authorized discount code. Note: All passes may sell out before the day of the event.

For more information, please visit

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"20, motherfucker, 20": Do the Right Thing's 20th anniversary, Part 3

Paul Benjamin, Robin Harris and Frankie Faison as the Statler and Waldorf, and uh, Statler of Do the Right Thing.Previously on A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog: Parts 1 and 2.

Do the Right Thing, which turns 20 years old this week, caused quite a stir at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, dividing the audience, the jurors and the guest filmmakers. German filmmaker and Cannes juror Wim Wenders complained that Mookie was not enough of a hero for throwing the trash can in the film's climax. Later on, star/director Spike Lee would say that somewhere in his closet is a baseball bat with Wenders' name on it.

When the film was first released, some critics feared it would incite black moviegoers to riot or start fights in the theaters, while more open-minded critics praised it for its ambiguity. Desson Thomson of the Washington Post called Do the Right Thing radical filmmaking at its best, and Roger Ebert said "it comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time... this movie is more open-ended than most. It requires you to decide what you think about it... Do the Right Thing doesn't ask its audiences to choose sides; it is scrupulously fair to both sides, in a story where it is our society itself that is not fair."

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association was as equally awed by Do the Right Thing, and they awarded the film with Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (for Danny Aiello as Sal) and Best Music honors. Meanwhile, the Oscars acted like the film didn't exist, although it was nominated for Aiello's performance and Lee's screenplay. In one of the most memorable moments from the Oscar telecast that year, a nervous and trembling Kim Basinger criticized the Academy for snubbing Do the Right Thing, which she called "the film that might tell the biggest truth of all." Barely anybody applauded, but Lee, who was in the audience, passed on a note of thanks to Basinger after her shout-out.

This week, Do the Right Thing makes its debut on Blu-ray with a few more extras than the already fully loaded 2001 Criterion DVD. This series of partial transcripts of segments from A Fistful of Soundtracks' 1999 episode about one of my favorite films concludes with more comments from S. Craig Watkins, the author of Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement (Beacon Press, 2005), and Mark A. Reid, the editor of Cambridge Film Handbooks' volume on Do the Right Thing (Cambridge University Press, 1997), whom I interviewed separately for the show.


Jimmy J. Aquino: Let's talk about Spike Lee's portrayals of the white characters in Do the Right Thing. What fascinates you about these characterizations?

S. Craig Watkins: What's really interesting about Spike's representation of whiteness is a number of things. I think that was the first of his feature films that actually involved white characters. Prior to that, most of his movies had been all-black casts, all-black-themed types of movies. So one of the questions that was actually posed to him as Do the Right Thing was being released was "Spike, how was it trying to direct white actors? How was it trying to write characters who are white?" The presumption for having that question was that a black filmmaker really had little of any knowledge or familiarity with whiteness, so therefore, he or she would have difficulty imagining, creating and directing white characters. Obviously, there's some sort of racial implications embedded in that in terms of... It's okay, I guess... White filmmakers are never asked, "Well, how is it creating or directing a black character?" So the question then is "Why is it that black filmmakers should have difficulty?," particularly given the sort of savvy ways in which blacks see, experience and understand whiteness in our society today anyway.

The annoying government agent from Transformers hates both robots and black people.
The other interesting thing about Spike Lee and his representation of whiteness and the white characters in the movie is that Sal is by far the most fully developed character in that movie, in terms of being a well-rounded, three-dimensional character. We see multiple sides of whiteness, multiple kinds of conflicting values around race, class, community, pride and ethnicity that are articulated via Sal's character. In that sense, it really showed how Spike on occasion is able to create very interesting, very nuanced types of characters.

The other thing too that I thought was very important about his portrayal of whites in that movie is I think it would have been very easy for Spike Lee and later African American filmmakers to play on what we might call counterracial stereotypes of whites, and that is depicting whites as the villains, in very one-dimensional, flat ways. I think what he was able to do in Do the Right Thing is to show and suggest that there are multiple ways in which whiteness gets expressed. There are multiple racial attitudes that white Americans develop. So in that sense, the way in which each of the white characters in the movie--and I'm talking specifically about Sal the father and his two sons--they all in some ways represented very different kinds of white racial sensibilities, white racial experiences and white relationships to blacks and blackness.


Reid explains why Lee's perspective gave Do the Right Thing an edge over other films about race relations.


JJA: How does Do the Right Thing succeed in its portrayal of racial animosity and racism, whereas other films about racism have failed?

Mark A. Reid: Like what other films would you say have failed?

JJA: Not so much as failed, but more problematic. For instance, films that portray tumultuous episodes in African American or African history, but it's really the story about the white friend of the black leader.

MAR: Oh, those types of films. I see. I think it's very important that a black directed the film. I'm not saying that any film directed by a black is going to be successful about portraying racism, but I think it's very important that Spike Lee's an African American. I think it's important also, to add on to that, that he's an African American that is aware of racism. In his film, the active characters are not just white people. It's very important to have a large swipe of different types of blacks that are involved, as opposed to one unique black and maybe two or three whites. I think that's what Spike Lee films do. They activate those blacks who are involved...

When you think of... Who Killed Vincent Chin? I don't think a white person could have made that film. I know somebody's going to call me an essentialist. I think at that point in time, when that film was made, I think it was very important that an Asian person made the film--and an Asian person who's talented, just like Spike Lee. Although he has a lot of flaws, he's a very talented filmmaker, and his language is well-versed in black culture.

'Aiiight, Radio Raheem, I feel ya, man. Now can you take it easy on my hand? I need it for delivering this pizza.'
I think it comes down to that--who the director and the writers are, when you work in a collective where you have mixed people, and you listen to all their different cultural stories and languages, to create a film... Because when Spike Lee made that film, his Italian American stars wrote a lot of what they'd say, and if they didn't believe in what they were doing, they'd say, "You know, we should do it this way." Spike Lee was a strong enough director to accept that. I think that's very important. Although I think he had a problem dealing with that in Jungle Fever, when Annabella Sciorra... I think he was unable to accept her reading of that relationship. But I think he's a director that's able to work with actors and be led by them sometimes.

JJA: Mark Reid, thank you.

MAR: Oh, you're welcome very much, and I enjoyed this. I learned something.

JJA: What did you learn?

MAR: That I didn't know that much about Spike Lee's films. [A woman in Reid's office can be heard laughing in the background.]

"20, motherfucker, 20": Do the Right Thing's 20th anniversary, Part 2

Previously on A Fistful of Soundtracks: The Blog: Part 1.

Duel of the tapes
"I've been listening to 'Cool Jerk' by the Capitols. It's a real classic, fast and upbeat, and it brings to mind summer in the city. This may be the song for the opening credits sequence. I see Rosie Perez dancing to 'Cool Jerk' all over Brooklyn at the first heat of dawn. Rosie doing the Cool Jerk on the Brooklyn Bridge, on the promenade, and on various rooftops."

--Spike Lee, the May 17, 1988 entry in his production journal, Do the Right Thing (Fireside Books, 1989)

Do the Right Thing wouldn't have been the same without Public Enemy's rousing and confrontational original song, "Fight the Power." I can't imagine the film opening with Lee's earlier choice of "Cool Jerk." The series of excerpts from my 1999 A Fistful of Soundtracks interviews with African American Do the Right Thing experts continues with a discussion with S. Craig Watkins, a UT Austin professor of sociology, African American studies and radio-television-film, about one of the film's most powerful and effective elements, its soundtrack.

The Do the Right Thing soundtrack consisted of original songs by artists ranging from P.E. to Take 6 and a Copland-esque original jazz score composed by Lee's father Bill and performed by the Natural Spiritual Orchestra, which you can hear selections from on the Fistful of Soundtracks channel. For the film, Bill Lee assembled a septet that included saxman Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Terence Blanchard (who later became Lee's regular composer), as well as a 48-piece string section.

(WARNING: These interviews contain spoilers.)


'This goes out to all the baby mamas, including the white ones. Much love, Amy Po-Po.'
Jimmy J. Aquino: Although Do the Right Thing was a pivotal moment in black cinema, the mainstream films directed by African Americans in the next couple of years were from the gangsta genre instead of being influenced by the Spike Lee Joints, which were more cerebral. Why was that so?

S. Craig Watkins: Much of black cinema, I would argue, tends to be influenced by what's happening in black popular music. In Do the Right Thing, you see Spike using a number of different kinds of black musical genres, styles and traditions. The one song that really, really drives the movie and I think is the most remembered is the song "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, which is playing into this kind of hyper-racialized neo-black nationalist politics that were taking place during that time, and so he features that and uses that as the energy that drives his movie. But as that's happening, at the same time, we see in 1988/1989/1990 a new trend taking place within the field of black American popular music, more specifically rap music, in terms of the emergence of gangsta rap, and what we see eventually in the film industry, again tapping into that same energy, tapping into that same vibe, tapping into what gangsta rap was saying, doing and how it was resonating with consumers. So we see the movies also turning more and more in that direction...

JJA: Is there anything else that you find intriguing about Spike Lee's use of music in Do the Right Thing?

SCW: Yeah, one of the things I like to say in terms of giving Spike Lee some props regarding his movies is that he's always understood that black musical styles and traditions have a long history, a long legacy and are very diverse. Compare, for example, soundtracks that were typically associated with a lot of popular action ghetto-themed movies throughout the 1990s. Most of these soundtracks are most exclusively gangsta rap music, hardcore, harder-edged kind of music, which in some ways, don't necessary illuminate the complex and rich history of black music.

On the other hand, soundtracks that Spike Lee generally compiled for his movies--and Do the Right Thing is a perfect example--you've got your traditional R&B songs on there, a reggae-style joint on there, you have the rap music by Public Enemy, you have the black female rhythm and blues tradition... He did a jazz score for the movie and subsequently released a jazz score CD. So my main point is that Do the Right Thing, that soundtrack, as well as a number of his other films--particularly School Daze comes to mind--he draws from a broad cross-section of black musical traditions, tapping into an understanding, just how complex, diverse and dynamic black American music has been.


Not all the films we love are perfect. The Cambridge Film Handbooks volume on Do the Right Thing that UF Gainesville English professor Mark A. Reid edited is a compilation of essays that both praise and critique Lee's controversial film. The book also reprints film critics' reviews of Do the Right Thing from the summer of 1989. During A Fistful of Soundtracks' 1999 episode about Do the Right Thing, I wanted to hear from Reid what he thought were the film's merits and if there was anything that was missing from Lee's depiction of 1989 Bed-Stuy.


JJA: In the film's portrayal of Bed-Stuy and the interracial tensions... is there anything in this portrayal of racial politics that it overlooks?

Mark A. Reid: Well, one would have to know the Bedford-Stuyvesant area pretty well to be able to say that it overlooks it, but I think it gives an ample picture of the different types of African Americans that live there. You have the West Indians and the different types, and you have the African Americans. You have the fact that there are Korean shopkeepers. Perhaps when Spike was younger, they weren't Korean. They were probably either Jewish or maybe Arab. The fact that there's gentrification going on in Bed-Stuy. But gentrification isn't always white yuppie. It's also buppies. We can see that in Jungle Fever, when in fact, the people who live in that area--and I think it's Harlem--the people that gentrified that area, and they're all upwardly mobile African American couples. You do have the hanger-on who's probably been there a long time... and you have different types of reactions by this Italian American family. I think that's interesting.

'1989, the number, another summer...'
You don't get much of an art community around there, and I think there is a black art community that developed because they couldn't afford to live in Manhattan. You don't get the fact that there's drugs, and everybody has criticized him for that. I think if he introduced that, he'd have to develop it, and it would probably overtake the story he's trying to tell...

Do the Right Thing, although it's interesting and everything, I still think it's a very thin film. I think it's an important film because politically, how it was used when it came out and what is criticized in the film, not only Koch, but the brutality that some law officers--although that, I think, was an accident--they abuse their power. It does talk about the tension that was mounting, that would later erupt, and not only in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but in Los Angeles, the trial of Rodney King. It's like a marker. It sees certain things that are happening in the urban situation between blacks and other ethnics. Because ultimately, it did happen between the Korean businesspersons in Los Angeles.

JJA: And also, years before in New York, there were conflicts between the Korean shopkeepers and the blacks.

MAR: Right. But the thing is that what would have been interesting is that also--which is I guess it's hard to do in most films since you have a singular narrative that dominates a film--is that it's very important to understand who those Koreans are and their culture, and that's what we don't get. If Koreans come from a culture where you don't touch people when you're handing back the money or other things, and other people who aren't Korean read it differently, then there's a miscommunication, and it's on both parts, the Koreans and whoever the other community is, be it African American or Mexican American or whatever. It would be interesting to have a film that dealt with that and dealt with what Do the Right Thing did.


Watkins explains why even some black viewers thought Do the Right Thing fell short.


SCW: I would argue that the problem with Do the Right Thing in retrospect is that it also illuminated some of the limitations with the kind of racial politics, the racial ideology, that the movie both played on and used as a driving and narrative force. Some thought that it was a bit overdone, in terms of the black racial politics. Some thought that the black racial politics were articulated in ways that weren't either nuanced or very sophisticated, in terms of the kinds of characters who were the leading proponents of a prism of the black progressive agenda. Here, I'm talking about, for example, the character of Buggin' Out, who many argue--and I think accurately so--was basically more of a caricature than a character per se.


I asked Reid about some black viewers' gripes with Giancarlo Esposito's Buggin' Out character.


Mookie and respected black scholar Buggin' Out
JJA: There's this interesting criticism about Buggin' Out, that Spike Lee's portrayal of Buggin' Out is a mockery of black political activism.

MAR: It's a mockery in a sense that what Buggin' Out wants to do is boycott Sal's, as opposed to... In the history of African Americans, we boycott, and we also choose another alternative to Sal at the same time. What Buggin' Out wants to do is change pictures, which really doesn't mean that much. It's superficial.

JJA: It's about image.

MAR: Right. Why wouldn't he say, "Hire more people from the community"? Why wouldn't he help support somebody else who wants to build a small restaurant and teach them--an internship? That's what a boycott could do. A boycott to change photographs on a wall? "You put up Muhammad Ali and you put up a basketball player"? So what? That's decoration.

But even within the film, the characters didn't take Buggin' Out that seriously. Spike Lee using those characters and taking that not so seriously means that they're waiting for a more serious type of political activism than what Buggin' Out offers them. So I wouldn't look at it totally as a critique of black activism. I'd look at it as a critique of a certain type of black activism, which might, in fact, be a critique of Al Sharpton. That hasn't ever been discussed, but you could see that at that point in time. I don't know what "Tawana Told the Truth" means. Are we supposed to take it seriously or is it like a critique of the Tawana Brawley thing? That's the problem too... But the thing is that do we want a conclusive "Yes, this is what it's about"? Or do we want to be forced to think about these issues? I think that maybe that's what Spike Lee is doing.


Watkins offers his take on the film's open-endedness.


JJA: Another intriguing aspect about Do the Right Thing is the narrative techniques. What's unconventional about these narrative techniques?

SCW: What Spike does in Do the Right Thing in some ways is indicative of the way he approached film early on in his career--adopting and incorporating very stylized, very non-conventional kinds of cinematic techniques into his own narratives. One of the problems that a lot of people had with Do the Right Thing is that the narrative structure was very unconventional, both in terms of the way the story evolves, but perhaps more importantly, in terms of the way in which the story is concluded. That is how he goes about trying to engage in narrative closure, when in fact, he engages in a more open-ended kind of narrative structure.

Later, Domino's moved into Bed-Stuy after the end of Sal's, and the neighborhood pizza was never the same again.We as filmgoers are so accustomed to movies where there's a definitive beginning, definitive middle and decisive end. I think that Do the Right Thing threw a lot of people off and was perhaps part of what made it a sensational movie in 1989--sensational in the sense that perhaps more so than any other movie during that year, it attracted considerable media attention. It attracted considerable attention within the academic community. There was a very interesting and profound buzz about the movie, and I think part of that was because the movie ended on a series of question marks as opposed to definitive conclusions and definitive statements. It left people wondering, "What was the right thing?" Was Mookie right or justified when he threw the trash can through Sal's pizzeria window and then started the incident that ensued from that point on? What are the right racial politics and black political ideology? Is it Malcolm's version or is it Martin Luther King Jr.'s version? What are the best and most effective ways for blacks to deal with perceived racial injustices and real racial injustices?

So because the movie ended in that way, I think it caught a lot of people off guard and left a lot of people pondering a lot of different questions, which I actually liked because what it does is, unlike most films, which pretend that the kinds of issues, conflicts and crises that it might address during the middle of the film, instead of pretending that those conflicts, tensions and crises can be easily resolved through some heroic individual or some heroic stance, what Do the Right Thing suggests is that many of society's deepest and most profound social problems are in some ways almost unfortunately... very difficult, and you can't come up with a very tidy ending to address these issues. This is something that we need to leave open-ended. This is a debate that we need to have, an ongoing conversation. I think the movie, in terms of a narrative sense, provoked that kind of discourse, provoked that kind of conversation. When I was in graduate school at the time, I could remember a number of different panels and a number of different forums. Even one of the local theaters in the city where I was in school in Michigan actually screened the movie and then had a post-film discussion.


To be concluded. In Part 3 of this series of excerpts from archived interviews about Do the Right Thing, Watkins praises the film's nuanced characters.