Thursday, August 20, 2015

"Straight Outta Compton": almost too much material for one film; rap musicians don't lead sheltered lives

Straight Outta Compton”, directed by F. Gary Gray, impresses upon me, at least, how sheltered my own life has been. Oh, so do a lot of other films.
A telling point occurs three-fourths through the movie, where Easy-E (Jason Mitchell) tells his manager Jerry (Paul Giamati, who gives an Oscar-level supporting performance with is odd charisma) that he is a journalist as much as a musician.

It opens in 1986, the heart of Reagan years and Nancy’s “Just Say No to drugs”, with LA police using automated battering rams to tear down a little house and bust a drug deal.  Inside is Easy-E uses his street smarts to deal with probable jail. 

In parallel, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) listens to rap records and argues with his mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) over his proper future.  And on a bus Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) is writing rhymes when he witnesses a major gang-related altercation.  Later Cube will smash the office of another manager, likeable and smooth Bryan (Tate Ellington) with no consequences.

I’ll jump ahead to the end with a spoiler and say that Easy-E dies of AIDS at 31, around 1993, protesting he was not a “faggot”.  The doctor tells him there are other ways to transmit the disease, including unprotected heterosexual sex.

One “problem” with this docudrama-style history of the rap group NWA is that it follows several young black men as lead characters and tends to present them as the same person.

But the movie is particularly timely now in its historical footage and coverage of the Rodney King beating, police acquittal and riots in LA, given today’s problems culminating in the “Black Lives Matter” movement.   The film was seen as having so much emotional impact that some theater chains in California hired extra police or sheriffs to provide security.

I saw the film before a small audience early Wednesday afternoon at the Angelica Mosaic.

The official site is here

The film is branded as a full Universal release with Legendary as a production company (Legendary usually works with Warner Brothers), and New Line Cinema as a co-producer.  Universal avoided its musical trademark and allowed the police noise to play as its trademark was shown, which I think is a mistake. The culture and presentation style of the film, however big the budget, are more like that of “major independent film” (like Focus Features).  It is long at 147 minutes but moves quickly, and many scenes seem truncated or abbreviated.  The DVD will surely contain a lot of supplementary material and extended scenes.  This material could have easily been viewed as a potential (NBC) television mini-series because of the sheer volume of content and of numerous characters.

I’ve seen people spell the first word of the title without the “gh”, that is, “Strait”.

Picture: downtown LA, my trip, 2012.
Update: Sept. 6, 2015

See the op-ed "Sugarcoated Outta Compton" by Lateefah Williams in the Washington Blade, Sept. 4, 2015, here

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