Every decade or so, consumers begin to get very frustrated with a mass media industry that can’t seem to settle on a specific format. Currently, people who own super high-resolution 4K televisions are wondering whether it will be HDR10 or Dolby Vision that will emerge as the leading picture quality standard. Prior to that, HD-DVDs were vying for shelf space with Blu-ray discs.
While these rivalries go all the way back to Thomas Edison’s wax cylinder for recording music (he lost out to the disc-based gramophone), only one became an outright punchline. In the 1970s, Sony’s Betamax videocassette format lost a highly contentious struggle to become the dominant home video format to JVC’s VHS standard.
One of the major reasons? American football.
In terms of quality, there was no comparison. When Betamax tapes and machines debuted in 1975, they offered vibrant colors and sharp renderings of pre-recorded and homemade cassettes. VHS, which debuted in 1977, was bulkier and flunked most head-to-head evaluations of the two formats.
But there was a compromise that consumers had to live with if they opted for Betamax’s sharper image: Tapes were only an hour in length, which meant that buying or recording movies required juggling two cassettes. VHS, on the other hand, offered two hours of recording space—plenty of time for many feature films.
Sony was confident consumers would value picture quality above all else. And in today’s market, where televisions can reveal virtually every pore on a person’s face, that strategy makes sense. But early adopters were more concerned with how practical these new devices were, a fact that Sony didn’t appear to prioritize. When American hardware manufacturer RCA expressed interest in producing cassette recorders, they knew that U.S. consumers would want to record sporting events for delayed viewing. Because American football broadcasts can often exceed three hours, RCA told Sony they needed a cassette that could accommodate the games.
Sony was indifferent. They didn’t want to give up picture quality in exchange for length. But Matsushita, which partnered with JVC to make VCRs, saw the logic in it. RCA’s first machine, the VBT200, allowed users to slow the VHS tape down to create four hours of recording time. Football fans could time-shift games, recording them to watch whenever they liked.
That wasn’t the only reason VHS eventually superseded Betamax: Sony’s machines were expensive, whereas JVC was happy to let other manufacturers make units and engage in more competitive pricing. VHS tapes and machines were plentiful, and even though Sony eventually caught on and offered Betamax machines with longer recording options, the format soon retreated into a small sub-category of professional A/V technicians. Sony made their last Betamax unit in 2002 and the last tapes in 2015.
A shot in the arm of American consciousness, Do the Right Thing—Spike Lee’s incendiary profile of racial tension and police overreaction—bristled in the veins of moviegoers when it landed in theaters in the summer of 1989. Taking its title from a Malcolm X quote, Do the Right Thing rumbled with youthful energy, dry comic wit, boombox-blasted politics, and an operatic magic unique to New York City.
It’s a fierce polemic. It’s a snapshot of stereotyping. It’s a chill hangout movie. It was also a showcase of Lee’s directorial know-how, just when experience was shaping his raw creative talent. Crank up the AC and the FM 108 We-Love Radio. Here are 10 things you might not know about Spike Lee's Oscar-nominated joint.
1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL-LIFE INCIDENT THAT HAPPENED IN 1986.
On December 19, 1986, four black men—Michael Griffith, Timothy Grimes, Curtis Sylvester, and Cedric Sandiford—were traveling when their car broke down. They walked three miles to the predominantly Italian-American Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York, where they got into an argument with some white teenagers before heading to New Park Pizzeria for a meal and a telephone. When they left the eatery, they were accosted by a larger group of white men, including the ones they’d encountered earlier. Sandiford and Griffith were beaten; Griffith tried to run but was chased onto the Belt Parkway, where he was hit by a car and killed. The incident was such a part of Do the Right Thing’s DNA that Lee wanted to open the film with his character, Mookie, shouting “Howard Beach!” while defacing Sal’s Famous Pizzeria.
2. IT’S DIFFICULT TO FIND SHOTS THAT DON’T FEATURE THE COLOR RED.
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One of the most impressive feats of the movie is how powerfully you feel the heat of the summer day. Besides placing Sterno cans near the camera to keep the air wavy, color was the filmmakers' most important tool in transferring the temperature to the screen. “I did a lot of research on [color usage’s] psychology and worked on a controlled palette that pretty much stayed in the warm range—yellows, reds, earth tones, ambers—and tried to stay away from blues and greens, which have a cooling effect,” cinematographer Ernest Dickerson toldThe Guardian. That rule extended to costuming, set design, and props, which is why almost every scene has at least one red element in it.
3. SPIKE LEE ORIGINALLY WANTED ROBERT DE NIRO TO PLAY SAL.
Oh, what might have been. It’s a no-brainer that Lee would have wanted Robert De Niro for the role of the brash Italian-American pizzeria owner, which eventually went to Danny Aiello (who scored an Oscar nomination for the film). “What young filmmaker wouldn’t want him to star in their film?” Lee said. “So, I gave him the script and he liked it, but he said it wasn’t for him.”
4. IT CONTAINS NODS TO A FEW CLASSIC FILMS.
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An avid cinephile and a student of film history, Lee is such a massive fan of Charles Laughton’s chest-thumper Night of the Hunter that he dropped part of it into the middle of Do the Right Thing. Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) carries the knuckle ring version of Robert Mitchum’s Night of the Hunter character’s “Love” and “Hate” tattoos, and he explains their existence using almost the exact same monologue.
Lee and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson also turned to classic noir The Third Man for its use of disorienting Dutch angles; you can watch as the camera angle gets more and more aggressively tilted leading up to the riot.
5. LEE TOOK THE MOVIE TO ANOTHER STUDIO TO AVOID A SAPPY ENDING.
It’s hard to imagine it, but Paramount executives dropped a bomb on Lee close to the end of pre-production, demanding an unrealistically uplifting ending. “They wanted Mookie and Sal to hug and be friends and sing ‘We Are the World,’” Lee toldNew York Magazine. "They told me this on a Friday; Monday morning we were at Universal.” Obviously, he did the right thing.
6. ROSIE PEREZ’S DANCE SEQUENCE TOOK EIGHT HOURS TO FILM.
Even the opening credits of Do the Right Thing are iconic. Rosie Perez’s frenetic, emotional dance to the bowel-shaking bass boom of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” sets the stage as well as any of Shakespeare’s prologues.
“Spike didn’t tell me he needed anger and angst and exhaustion,” Perez explained. “Instead, he just said, ‘I need you to kill it.’ I thought, okay. I thought I killed it in the first hour. Freakin’ eight hours later, this freakin’ man had me still dancing. I had tennis elbow, my knee was swelling. So, I forgot about the lyrics, the original words—you know, Elvis, John Wayne? To me, it was all 'Spike, Spike, Spike, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!' And when rage and hate just poured out of my body, pure exhaustion, he went, ‘Cut, print it! We got it!'"
7. LEE HIRED THE NATION OF ISLAM’S PARAMILITARY AS SECURITY ON THE SET.
The production descended on a Bedford-Stuyvesant street in late summer 1988, building Sal’s Famous Pizzeria and painting murals, but largely leaving the neighborhood in its natural state for the shoot. To ensure safety, they hired members of Fruit of Islam, then run by Louis Farrakhan, to act as on-set security. One of their first jobs was boarding up known crack houses and guarding them to deter drug abusers from returning.
8. CLOTHING REINFORCES THE RACIAL LOYALTIES.
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Lee and costume designer Ruth E. Carter bolstered certain characters’ attitudes by dressing them in racially-coded clothes. The white, brownstone-owner cyclist (John Savage) who scuffs Buggin’ Out’s (Giancarlo Esposito) shoes wears a Larry Bird Celtics jersey while Buggin’ Out’s sneaks are Air Jordans. Mookie also wears a Jordan jersey and a Dodgers jersey with Jackie Robinson’s number. Plus, while the racist Pino (John Turturro) wears all black in classic villain fashion, he wears a white undershirt while at work in the pizzeria, signaling his racial allegiance in the neighborhood in contrast to his open-minded brother Vito (Richard Edson), who wears a black undershirt.
9. IT WAS DIRECTLY AIMED AT HURTING A MAJOR NEW YORK CITY POLITICIAN.
There’s no mistaking that Do the Right Thing is an overtly political movie that spoke to complex, large-scale issues like gentrification, systemic racism, and police brutality, but parts of it were also aimed at one politician in particular. Blaming Mayor Ed Koch for the deaths of black men and women like Eleanor Bumpurs (one person to whom the movie is dedicated) at the hands of an overly aggressive police force, Lee included graffiti that said “DUMP KOCH” next to an image of Mike Tyson punching Koch and Jesse Jackson campaign posters that say, “Our Vote Counts!”
“We had this plan because the film came out in August and that fall was the Democratic primary [between Koch and David Dinkins],” Lee toldNew York Magazine. “So, throughout the film, you hear Mister Señor Love Daddy, played by Samuel Jackson, telling people to vote, vote, vote. And Dinkins won."
10. BARACK AND MICHELLE OBAMA SAW IT ON THEIR FIRST DATE.
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“He was trying to show me his sophisticated side by selecting an independent filmmaker,” Michelle Obama said, reflecting on seeing Do the Right Thing on her first date with her future husband—and the future president. On the 25th anniversary of Lee’s film, Barack Obama recorded a video message thanking Lee for helping him impress Michelle. Other options for that first date? Batman and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids were still in theaters, and The Karate Kid Part III came out the same weekend as Do the Right Thing.
Owning a smartphone means you have thousands of games at your fingertips, but capturing the nostalgia of playing a game saved on a floppy disk isn't as simple as downloading an app. Reviving floppy disk games for the smartphone era is a bit more complicated, and YouTube vintage video game reviewer LGR shows you just how to do it step by step.
In this video, spotted by Kotaku, LGR takes an old floppy disk, the same kind you used in your computer class at school, and uses it to play a classic video game on a smartphone. This is made possible with an Android phone, a USB connector, an Android USB adaptor, and a portable floppy disk drive that's about as big as the phone itself. (The hardware doesn't work for iPhones, but if you're an Apple user there are plenty of ways to play old PC games online).
Just inserting the disk into the drive when it's connected to your phone isn't enough to start playing: You need to download a special app that mimics Microsoft's old disk operating system, like Magic Dosbox, for example. Once you have that on your phone, you can use it to open whatever game is saved to your floppy disk.
Because old PC games weren't made for touchscreens, the smartphone gameplay can be a little be a little awkward—but if you're willing to hook a floppy disk drive up to your phone, convenience likely isn't your goal. You can watch LGR's full instructions in the video below.