Tensions flare on the hottest day of the year in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Released in 1989, Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing has been on my film list for food & a film from the start. Seeing as the film has a pizzeria as its central location, it’s clear to see why Do the Right Thing would be an obvious choice for a food & a film feature. Ultimately I wanted to feature the film in the summertime given that Do the Right Thing was released around this time 31 years ago and its events take place on the year’s hottest day. Much more importantly, given recent events, I feel now more than ever is a pertinent time to highlight this poignant cinematic classic. Like always, I will be focusing on the food and drink moments in the film; yet, it must be noted that despite Do the Right Thing being released three decades ago, the events in the film and its themes of racism and structural violence are dispiritedly apropos.
Following the opening credits sequence, we have the film’s very first drink moment when radio disk jockey, Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) sips his mug of coffee as he begins his 12 hour radio show. Shortly thereafter we are introduced to Sal (Danny Aiello) and his sons Pino (John Turturro) and Vito (Richard Edson) as they arrive at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, which will severe as the primary hub throughout the film. According to the sign, we can see that in addition to pizza, Sal’s offers, ‘Heroes’, ‘Calzone,’ and ‘Sausage.’ Moments later, the film’s second notable beverage moment occurs when Pino sips his coffee from a classic New York City Greek coffee cup while constructing pizza boxes. The film’s third notable drink moment takes place when Da Mayor goes into the corner bodega across the street from Sal’s—Fruit and Vegetable Delight—for a beer. Outside the bodega are numerous produce stands filled with an array of colorful produce. As Da Mayor scans the beer selection in the cold case inside, we can see boxes of Frosted Flakes behind him on the shelf. We then cut to another interior shot of the bodega, which reveals more shelves and amongst the sundries, we can spot loaves of Wonder bread and cans of V8 juice. Da Mayor, disappointed that the bodega does not have any more Miller High Life in stock, settles for a can of Miller Lite. Once Da Mayor takes a can from the cold case, the film cuts to him outside on the sidewalk, drinking from can of Miller Lite, which is concealed in a brown paper bag.
Almost twenty minutes into the film, we get out first significant food moment when Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) is served a slice of pizza at Sal’s. Sal removes the slice of pizza from the oven and places it on a piece of wax paper on the counter in front of Buggin Out. When Sal asks if he is going to pay now or on layaway, Buggin Out asks, “How much?.” When Sal tells him the slice is $1.50, Buggin Out replies, “Yo, Sal, put some cheese on that motherfucker, man!,” to which Sal responds, “Extra cheese is $2.00.” Buggin Out does not opt to add the extra cheese, but instead grabs the complimentary shaker of parmesan cheese on the counter and proceeds to give his slice, which appears to have peppers on it, a very generous topping of parmesan cheese before Sal seizes the shaker from him.
Following this scene at Sal’s we have another notable drink moment when a group of five men are convening on a brownstone stoop drinking Miller beers. From the close-up shot of the beers, it appears that there are two cans of Miller Genuine Draft, two cans of Miller Lite, and one bottle of Miller Genuine Draft or High Life.
The next notable food moment comes when Mookie (Spike Lee) is at Sal’s picking up his next delivery. As Mookie approaches the counter to retrieve the bag of food, we see Pino using a pizza cutter to slice up a cheese pizza in a delivery box while another cheese pizza rests on an aluminum pizza pan on the counter next to him. Mookie then brings the bag of food to the radio station where Love Daddy reveals on air, “Peoples, my stomach’s been grumbling, but help has arrived. My main man Mookie has saved the day. Straight from Sal’s Famous Pizzeria up the block.” After allowing Mookie to dedicate a song to Tina (Rosie Perez), Love Daddy says, “Let me put this song on while I go to work on this chicken parmesana hero with extra cheese and extra sauce.”
Following this scene at the radio station, the next scene to feature food is back at Sal’s when Sal is taking a moment to himself to sit and eat a sandwich while reading a newspaper. On the counter in front of him we can see all of the fixings for his sandwich including meat, iceberg lettuce, tomato and bread, as well as see that he has been drinking from a paper cap with a straw. Less than 10 minutes later we see Vito slicing rolls for heroes on the same back counter, and a few minutes after that, we see Sal making a pizza on the back counter while talking to Mookie as Pino walks by holding a plate in each hand with a couple of slices fresh out of the oven (one clearly with pepperoni). After Mookie embarks on his next delivery, he encounters Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) who is on his way to Sal’s. When Radio arrives to Sal’s, after obliging Sal’s request to turn off his boombox, he orders two slices of pizza and instructs Sal to “put some extra mozzarella on that motherfucker and shit.” Shortly after this scene with Radio, we see Sal in a booth joined by Pino, and as they talk, Sal sips from a paper cup, which presumably contains Diet Pepsi as evidence of the can on the table.
The following food moment occurs a few moments later at Sal’s again when Sal is seen serving a cone of lemon Italian ice, seemingly, through a transactional window. Shortly after serving this 75-cent frozen treat, Jade (Joie Lee) comes into Sal’s for a “regular slice,” however, Sal tells her, “No, no, I’m going to make you something special, something very special, if you don’t mind.” When Jade says, “Yeah, that’ll be great.,” Sal replies, “Okay. What do you want to drink?.” Jade tells Sal that she would like cream soda, to which Sal replies, “Changed. It used to be root beer. If I’m wrong, tell me I’m wrong.” Jade then responds saying, “I know. I want a change of pace, you know?” We then see Sal at the back counter presumptively preparing the “something special” for Jade, which looks like it is going to be some type of hero.
Following this scene at Sal’s, there are a few scenes that take place at various locations around the neighborhood, including a sequence involving the Icee Man with his snow cone cart. The Icee Man parks his cart before uncovering a massive block of ice, which is flanked by numerous colorful bottles of various flavors of syrup. We then see the man begin to shave the giant block of ice before we cut to a close-up of a snow cone as the man pours an orange syrup (assumably orange flavor) on top of the cone of ice. As the man resumes his ice-shaving to make another cone, a Mister Softee ice cream trunk drives past the snow cone cart. The whimsical jingle blaring through the speakers of the ice cream truck entices the children who have assembled around the cart, resulting in them leaving the cart in order to chase the trunk down the street.
Following this scene out on the street, we are then brought back into Sal’s where we see Jade seated in a booth joined by Sal who is talking to her as she sips her cream soda from a paper cup through a straw. Based on the fact that we are joining them mid-conversation, as well as the fact that Jade does not eat anything, we can assume that the scene has picked up at the end of Jade’s meal.
Lastly, other notable food and drink moments worth mentioning include: the Pepsi cold case and fruit punch dispenser at Sal’s; Punchy’s Twizzler; Tina’s mom, Carmen, cooking something on the stove while arguing with Tina; the cyclist’s Minute Maid orange juice carton; watermelon being sliced outside Fruit and Vegetable Delight; Da Mayor asking 10-year-old Eddie to go get him a Miller High Life, and later seeing him with a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft; Pino overheard taking orders including a “meatball hero” and “eggplant parmesan,” as well as “two large anchovy and pepperoni” pizzas; and finally, Mookie delivering a pizza to Tina, but forgetting to bring the ice cream she requested.
When it came time to plan out my vegan pairing for Do the Right Thing, I knew I had to go with most popular and obvious choice from the menu at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria: the classic cheese pizza. Of course there are other options available at Sal’s, but pizza seemed like the only way to go, and of course in my case, it’s a vegan version.
Then for dessert, I went with another summertime pizzeria classic: Italian ice. I opted for lemon Italian ice since it is a time-honored flavor, as well as appears to be the flavor that Sal is seen serving to a customer through his transaction window. Then for a beverage, since the film heavily features both Pepsi and Miller products, I decided on a soft drink, as well as Da Mayor’s preferred Miller beer: Miller High Life, which vegan friendly!
For the table setting, I first found a fabric to use as a tablecloth that I feel embodies the art direction for Do the Right Thing. Then, just like the table settings at Sal’s, I included a milk glass bud vase filled with red flowers (carnations in my case). Finally, similarly to the Teriyaki Donut table setting for Jackie Brown, I created my own version of a Sal’s Famous Pizzeria drink cup and napkin by utilizing the typeface used from the back of Mookie’s delivery shirt.
Thank you for tuning in for July’s installment of food & a film! Be sure to check back next month for a new entry for the month of August. Until then!