Sunday, November 20, 2005
I am fascinated by the number of rappers who have crossed over into film. Never in the history of the music industry have so many performers accomplished this. Not traditional music, religious music, classical music, R&B, Rock, Country, Jazz...nothing. But the list of Hip-Hop and Rappers who have done it just staggers the mind. Queen Latifah, Will Smith, LL Cool J, Mos Def, P. Diddy, Eminim, Eve, Lil Bow Wow, and on and on and on. My theory? Well, these people (in general) can't sing, or dance, or play instruments, or read music. They are heavily dependant on their producers (as are most musical performers) for their sound. What, then, exactly are they bringing? And you'd better consider that the competition has to be incredibly fierce, up to and including lethal levels of physical intimidation. Rap is a CUT THROAT business, so I am forced to conclude that those at the top have more of whatever "success quality" is required than those further down. And I think that the major components of that are the elusive thing called "star poewr", and the ability to act a role.
Enter Curtis "Fifty Cent" Jackson, a rapper of moderate skills and no real point of view, whose primary claim to fame is having been shot nine times. Think about that. That's his claim to fame? The thing that makes him marketable, the fact that he is a bona-fide gangster? I guess so. And that disturbs the hell out of me.
Back tothe movie
The film, a fictionalized version of Jackson's life, is probably best criticised by comparing it to two much better movies, "8 Mile" with Eminim, and "Hustle and Flow" with Terrance Howard. Eminim's music, mroe than almost anyone else in rap, is self-revelatory, and deals withhis personal pains, hopes, and dreams, his family anguish, his personal failings and devils. In other words,his primary talent is honesty. I am tempted to look at the vast majority of black rappers and wonder what keeps them from being as honest...then again, no, I don't. Just like black male sexuality is a taboo in American film, any other exploration of genuine feelings and weaknesses and hopes and dreams beyond a narrow "get paid and get laid" is simply not profitable...or not perceived as profitable. I think that the perception is accurate. Black men have masked their feelings for four hundred years--to let out the homicidal anger would be suicide. Fear gets bound up with pain and love and hope and frustration, the kind of emotional ball that is bounced with such wonderful effect in the Blues. Hip Hop, especially the stuff played on the radio, is NEVER about weakness. It is all about strength, and lack of real feeling. And this creates a problem in film when companies, looking for marketable black faces, casts Rappers.
They can't act, in general. Yeah, Queen Latifah and Mos Def and even Will Smith are exceptions. But when you see Jackson and Terrance Howard acting side by side, there's no comparison. In "8 Mile" they surrounded Eminim with real actors for him to react to, and gave him a home life that created INSTANT empathy--his relationship with his mother, his sister, a girl at work, his homies. Far, far beyond the level of humanization in "Die Tryin'." where no human relationships more than paper-thick show up for damned near the first hour of the movie. Jackson does his best, but he basically has two expressions, and although competantly directed, the film gives us nothing we haven't seen before. Even a nude knife fight in a prison shower is shot with a curious blandness and lack of intensity. A love scene late in the film does have a nice eroticism, but it's strange how different it is from most love scenes in film. I salute the film makers for willingness to do it at all, but in most films, the FIRST love scene between two characters is the most incandescent. If we see a second one at all, it is usually far more demure. Things are jsut the opposite here, which reinforces my sense that Hollywood just doesn't know what to do with black male sexuality.
The movie just doesn't work well, and maybe that's because they couldn't get Jackson to open up the way Eminim can, and I thinkthe difference is racial, I really do. Nonetheless, "Die Tryin'" is compentant, and an actual effort to tell Jackson's story. While I can't love it, I don't hate it, and it bodes well for future efforts...the trailers for Usher's movie "In The Mix" actually had me smiling. I'll be damned if I'm not looking forward to it, and I'm not even into his music. Maybe it's because he does Hindu Pushups and Squats.
Give "Get Rich" a C+.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:31 AM