Spike Lee
Photo: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage.com

A 24-hour time frame imposes a deadline on a narrative, creating a buzz of energy and anticipation that is perfectly suited to the antics of many coming-of-age films. High school stories from George Lucas's 1973 American Graffiti to Richard Linklater's 1993 Dazed and Confused to 2007's Superbad are contained within a single, fateful day that brims with the urgency of adolescence, when the heady excitement of the moment is tempered by uncertainty about the future.

Apprehension deepens into dread in another one-day standout, the film adaptation of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), which remains a vivid portrait of the claustrophobia and profane desperation of a group of two-bit salesmen. A sense of time running out is also palpable in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966), a day in the life of a photographer in swinging '60s London whose camera may have recorded a murder.

But perhaps the most compelling example of the 24-hour movie is Spike Lee's (above) Do the Right Thing, which takes place on a sweltering summer day in a Brooklyn neighborhood where racial tensions are about to combust. Enormously controversial upon its release in 1989, Lee's tragedy hits hard from its opening moments, when Rosie Perez performs a ferocious shadowboxing dance routine to the film's unofficial anthem, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Do the Right Thing unforgettably captured the simmering cultural conflicts of late-'80s New York; nearly two decades later, it hasn't aged a day.

By Jessica Winter


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