Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tyson vs. Spinks: Once and for All (1988)


All you have to do is compare opening statements by boxers Iron Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks to know exactly where their highly anticipated 1988 showdown was headed. For Tyson, it was: “My objective is to knock him out and win in spectacular fashion”. For Spinks, it was: “It feels good to have some terror in my life, something that really frightens me.” So, it really was no wonder that Tyson knocked Spinks out only 91 seconds into the first round of their bout between formerly undefeated heavyweight champions.

That’s right, before being destroyed by Tyson, Spinks had gone 31-0 as a professional fighter without a single opponent being able to knock him down, let alone knock him out. He was scheduled to go 12 rounds with Tyson, but before he knew it found himself flat on his back with his eyes rolling back in their sockets. It made Tyson the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, sporting a perfect 35-0 record, with 16 of his 31 knockouts coming in the first round. Signaling the point when Tyson was at the absolute apex of his game, the Spinks fight was to be followed by a downward spiral that saw Tyson segue a year of personal problems into a surprise upset defeat at the hands of Buster Douglas.

Staged at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, the Tyson-Spinks fight attracted quite an array of celebrity spectators including Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Paul Simon, Tom Brokaw, Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. And then there was of course Tyson’s then-wife actress Robin Givens sitting ringside right next to promoter Don King. Citing shortcomings with her husband’s long-time management team, Givens expresses just how rough it can be for a world-class athletic superstar by stating: “If Michael has 50 million dollars and he’s supposed to have 70 million dollars, there’s a problem.”

The video does a great job, both analyzing the fight itself and capturing the circus atmosphere that was to consume Tyson from that point on. Announcer Larry Merchant spares no punches in calling things just how he saw them, including taking somewhat of a distant, in-studio shot at Tyson for failing to show up for an interview that would have been the primary highlight of this HBO-produced video. Luckily, Tyson’s trainer Kevin Rooney fills in to supply his insightful expertise with a few unintended laughs built in.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Harder They Come (1973)


Reggae singer Jimmy Cliff plays Ivan, a poor Jamaican country boy who makes his way to big city Kingston where he initially struggles to overcome hunger and homelessness. Upon being sponsored by a preacher, who puts Ivan to work in his machine shop, the spit hits the fan when Ivan is caught sneaking off with the preacher’s daughter. It ends with Ivan taking lashes in prison after he gets into a fight with his foreman and slashes the man’s face repeatedly with a knife.

Back on the streets, Ivan’s big break comes with a chance to record his song “The Harder They Come” for none other than the leading studio in town. But Ivan finds the music business to be just as cut-throat and exploitative as the manual labor game. So Ivan takes to running marijuana and next thing we know, he’s madly in love with his new pistol. Chomping at the bit for a chance to use it, Ivan winds up gunning down four policemen sent to capture him. On the lamb, Ivan becomes a cult hero and his song subsequently sets the radio airwaves afire.

“You can get it if you really want, but you must try” comes in many forms for Ivan who gets the girl, the fame, and the excitement of life on the edge. But he also gets ratted on and ultimately falls to overwhelming police firepower. To Ivan, creating the legend of a rude boy is much more valuable than his own life. Going out in a blaze of glory is all he knows to do. And Jamaica, with its beautiful beaches and quirky sense of style, provides the perfect backdrop for this drama to unfold, like a good Western shot in a flawed figment of paradise.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Geto Boys: Uncut Dope (1992)


This music video collection reminds me just how plastic and pop everything has turned over the past 20 years, as if no one any longer bothers to do anything but shop and party all the time, like we all live in a television commercial 365 days a year. Contrast such empty cheese with the Geto Boys circa 1992 and it’s practically laughable just how much more honest with ourselves we used to be. For instance, the Geto Boys were the kind to tell us straight out that it’s the government that’s bringing drugs into the community in the first place, both poisoning one group of users and imprisoning yet another group of dealers at the same time.

There was no apology to the Geto Boys’ approach. It was blunt and brutal truth, put to music in a way that moved you to care. The video to “A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die” pits Scarface addressing an assembly of young, serious men with a cautionary tale about the fleeting nature of the street hustle. Bushwick Bill tells his own story, the one about how he lost his eye, in excruciating detail with his video for “Ever So Clear”. In similar fashion, the frantic vibe to the Geto Boys’ most famous song “My Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me” is captured to perfection with Willie D “peeping around corners” and the whole bit.

Possibly, you remember seeing some of these videos back when they first aired, if they ever aired (I don’t recall ever seeing the video for “Dot It Like a G.O.” back in the day, and I lived in Houston when it dropped…hmm.). But unless you’ve watched this tape, you’ve likely never seen the video for Bushwick’s “Chucky” which endures as one of the most twisted songs in the history of rap. Uncut Dope also features a decent amount of overhead footage from a jam-packed Geto Boys concert that runs in segments between videos. No wonder rap music sold as well as it did back in the early ‘90’s. Not only was it giving us something new musically, but it actually had coherent substance to it as well…imagine that!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fat Pat: Ghetto Dreams, The Documentary (1999)


Fat Pat is commonly heralded as a musical icon down in Houston, Texas for being the first rapper to freestyle on a DJ Screw cassette. Pat’s sturdy lyrical flow set the standard for not only the other members of the Screwed Up Click, but also thousands of aspiring rappers across the Lone Star state. A dozen years since his tragic murder, the ability to recite Fat Pat verses verbatim continues as a prevalent initiation rite for young Texas mc’s looking to earn their initial stripes.

Ghetto Dreams: The Documentary showcases footage of Pat “doing the things that g’z do.” Cameras follow Pat as he drives to the beach in Galveston, where his song “G Town” blares so loudly from the trunk of his posted slab that not a party-going passerby can resist vibing with Pat and his crew. Along with his Wreckshop Records compatriots, Pat performs on stage to adoring fans in Beaumont and Lafayette. And most notably, at DJ Screw’s house on the Southside of Houston, Pat skillfully improvises rhymes with Lil Keke and it just doesn’t get any more classic than that.

Forlorn over the loss of their hero and friend, countless Houston artists make wordy appearances in order to pay homage to Fat Pat. Knowing that some, including DJ Screw, HAWK, Big Steve, and Mafio have since followed Pat up to the big studio in the sky, only makes the nostalgic feel of the tape all the more crucial. Watching Pat’s celebratory video for “Tops Drop” and realizing that he didn’t even get the chance to be in it, more than anything, makes it apparent how much Pat was loved by his fans and family.

In fact, check the names cited by the closing credits: Ke-Ke, Pooh-Pac, Pooh, Slick Rick, Scott, Troy D, Lil D, Den-Den, BLACK, SOC, Lil T, Joe P, Tra-Boo, Ben-Do, Boo-V, Noc-Noc, Toe, Stick-1, Tic, Robot, Duke-Duke, Phill, 8-ball, Lil-George, Twinz, McCoy, Jamal, Jef, K-Pac, Third, B-Hawk, Juice, Ace Dogg, Thomas L, Kool-B, Black, Big Mike, Ebony, Candy, Floyd, Monica, Fe Money, Perk, Lady 1, Tash, Lillian, Greyhans, Bui, Nu Nu, B.J., Ice, Lil D, Marcus, Jasmine, Raven, Kiki, Fredy-D, Lil Doug, J.T., and Feloney. Now, if that doesn’t sound like a squad one can trust to point the way to some quality rap realism!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Return of the B-Boy (2000)


Basically a promotional introduction to a loose affiliation of rap artists from the San Francisco Bay Area, Return of the B-Boy follows a day in the life chasing the dream of hip-hop. The video begins on
Telegraph Avenue
in Berkeley with rapper Kirby Dominant posted up attempting to sell his cd to any and everyone who passes by. Then it’s on to Eclipse 427’s house in San Leandro, where the rapper/producer is recording a song titled “How Many Times” by the group Zion I.   

Next up, the producer Fanatik hosts a freestyle session with rappers Kirby Dominant and Planet Asia at his pad in Oakland. All of this leads to an overtly staged show at Rico’s in San Francisco where Kemetic Suns, Konceptual Dominance, and Planet Asia consecutively rock the stage as b-boys acrobatically rock the floor. It’s a little too much really, the pretend concert portion of the program, far too forced and unrealistic. Fortunately, the video redeems itself by also featuring an extended conversation with legendary graffiti artist Mike Dream who tragically passed away shortly after the interview.

Filmmaker Oliver Best also throws in some impressive footage from another project titled Enter the B-Boy that fuses breakdancing with martial arts cinema. With much of the dancing taking place in the woods with fighters expertly maneuvering around rocks and cliffs, I’m surprised there haven’t been any full-blown movies made in such a still hip-hop fashion. In fact, I’m surprised there aren’t communes of runaway kids out in the foothills past Sacramento learning the artform from storied masters.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Super Bowl XXXVII Champions (2003)


Having been the laughingstock of the NFL back in the ‘70’s, with their ridiculously orange uniforms and consecutive losing streaks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoped that the final riddle to their Super Bowl quest would be solved by bringing Jon Gruden over from Oakland to be their head coach for the 2002 season. Nicknamed Chucky for his sideline antics with the Raiders, Gruden brought character to a Bucs franchise in dire need of his unbridled enthusiasm.

This NFL Films retrospective covers the Bucs’ entire championship season, from an opening home loss in overtime to the Saints, to their 48-21 thrashing of the Raiders in the high-profile game of their lives. Known mostly for their defensive prowess, the smash-mouth Bucs sported two of the biggest on-the-field shit talkers in NFL history in defensive tackle Warren Sapp and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. With fellow bruisers Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, and Mike Alstott rounding out the apex of their roster, the Bucs chugged away at the opposing teams in their tracks until all but themselves were laying flat.

Narrated by Harry Kalas, the video program captures candid communications between players and coaches in the classic Steve Sabol style of portraying professional football as every bit as dramatic as a Hollywood movie. You know the happy ending just by reading the title on the vhs box, but nonetheless the determination of the team, put to marching music, draws you in to where a Ronde Barber interception return against the Eagles embodies redemption. Plus, didn’t the crypt-keeper himself, Al Davis, deserve to have his former coach Gruden stick it to him the very next year after dealing him away for a bucket of cash? As Kalas puts it, “Tampa Bay’s defense punched the Raiders squarely in their unpatched eye.” Yep.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mystery, Mr. Ra: Sun Ra and his Arkestra (1984)


So much more than just a legendary pianist and bandleader, whose jazz pedigree goes all the way back to playing with Fletcher Henderson in the ‘40’s, the late great Sun Ra made art in full. Forgoing commercial sensibilities that ultimately kill in favor of those that actually benefit community, Sun Ra incorporated costume, dance, and theater into a symphonic eruption of cultural living by example. His Arkestra, featured in the Mystery, Mr. Ra video touring France in 1984, embodied the shamanic message Sun Ra wished to bestow upon mankind.  

In Sun Ra’s own words, “I’m on a mission because I’m telling the truth all the time, another kind of truth, not the kind that will kill you, and not the kind that will save you, but the kind that will make you adjust yourself to the kind of reality you should have instead of this despicable one you’ve got.” Filmmaker Frank Cassenti lays it all out, both the performances and the behind-the-scenes commentary, which together show exactly how committed Sun Ra was to challenging his audience to honestly confront the absurdities of their unquestioned existence.

“You’ve lost your celestial rights,” Sun Ra implores. “You can’t go to Jupiter. You can’t even go to Mars. You are chained and bound to the planet Earth.” And according to Sun Ra, since we are each “children of the Sun”, that’s a horrible shame for sure. The video splits its dialogue between French and English languages, and neither are as audible as would be hoped for with a documentary. But if you follow Sun Ra’s words close enough, he drops knowledge as persistent as it is paradigm-shifting. And of course, the musical segments are extraordinary.