Interview: Agenda 2003
Peace: The Colour Purple
Industrial: Long, Hot Summer
Solidarity: Workers Against War
Security: Howard And The Hoodlums
International: Industrial Warfare
History: Unions and the Vietnam War
Review: Eight Miles to Mowtown
Poetry: Return To Sender
Satire: CIA Recruits New Intake of Future Enemies
The Locker Room
A Call To Arms
A Tale of Two Malls
Talk Back Tom
On The Beach
Eight Miles to Mowtown
How ironic that repressive economic rationalism, a cancer responsible for continued pain and human suffering throughout the world is responsible for one of the most creative musical genres of the 20th Century.
Hip-Hop was born in the slums of the South Bronx in the early 1970s, the product of a generation without jobs, decent housing, education, and quite frankly in many cases without hope. This phenomenon, centred on two turntables and a microphone, quickly spread across America, its practitioners speaking out about the struggles of urban life and its very existence giving a rapidly growing cadre of devotees something to live for. Thirty years on, and not much has changed. Inner city America is still being raped by economic rationalism, and kids still look to Hip-Hop to lift them out of their urban nightmare. 8-mile is the story of this continuing paradox.
Set on Detroit's 8 Mile Road, which symbolically divides the suburbs from the urban centre in a city devastated by the loss of many traditional industries, the film focuses on the trails and tribulations of Jimmy Smith Jr (Eminem), an aspiring rapper struggling to survive in a difficult world. Jimmy boasts great talent but finds himself held back by self-doubt and troublesome personal relationships. After breaking up with his girlfriend and freezing up in an important MC battle, Jimmy is forced to move into his unstable mother's (Kim Basinger) trailer home and take responsibility for his young sister. Stuck in a menial low paying job, Jimmy and his crew (Three One Third) dream about breaking out of the ghetto with a hit record. But before this can happen Jimmy must conquer his inner demons all the while ensuring that he does not become yet another statistic of his cold and unforgiving environment.
By rights, 8 Mile should have been a straight to video release. Rappers, barring a few sterling performances from Ice Cube, can't act, and there was no reason to suspect that Marshall Mathers would buck the trend. But here's the trick, Eminem isn't really acting in 8 Mile. A young white rapper growing up in Detroit: he's just playing himself. But don't think for a moment that this fact detracts from Eminem's abilities. His moody and enigmatic performance elevates 8 Mile by giving the work a gritty and realistic edge it may have otherwise lacked. Eminem is ably supported in his endeavours by Kim Basinger who brings a wonderful vulnerability to the character of Jimmy's mother, while the laid back Mekhi Phifer excels as the streetwise and cynical Future.
Scott Silver's screenplay also deserves a favourable mention. With 8 Mile he effortlessly blends gripping drama with a surprising dose of humour that provides a welcome respite from the film's otherwise bleak outlook on life. This is no one-dimensional tale of cartoon gangsters from ghetto, Scott's protagonists are all too human.
Putting aside a disappointingly abrupt ending, this is an intriguing film from start to finish. Edgy, brutally honest, and with a soundtrack honed to Hip-Hop perfection, 8 Mile successfully taps into the mood of an angry generation and delivers the results to the world.
Standing In The Shadows Of Motown
If I asked you who sung on 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine', the name Marvin Gaye would slip from your lips without much thought. But say I hit you with the follow up question 'Who played the music?' Chances are I'd be the recipient of a puzzled look and a shrug of the shoulders. And if I went on to say that the same musicians powering that soul classic also provided the grooves for 'Reach Out I'll Be There' and 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough', you'd probably start feeling a little sheepish. 'Am I the only one who didn't know this?' However, you'd have no real cause for concern, the musicians who powered the Motown sound, and in effect the Mowtown legend, have been long neglected: until now.
Standing In The Shadows Of Motown is the story of the Funk Brothers, a hard working, hard boozing group of musicians hired by Berry Gordy as the engine room of his fledgling musical empire. While a legion of young crooners climbed the charts and embraced the fame, the Funk Brothers stayed in the background doing that they did best: churning out music that defined entire social eras and enthralled millions throughout the world.
Inspired by Allan Slutsky's book of the same name, 'Shadows...' is the brainchild of legendary music director Paul Justman. With the ravages of time beginning to take its toll on the Funk Brothers, Justman felt his project just couldn't wait. If their story wasn't told soon, it never would be. Accordingly, in the winter of 2000, Justman headed to Detroit to begin an intensive six-week period of filming, during which he took the Funk Brothers back to their old stomping grounds. The results, candid interviews filled with humour and emotion, and powerful moments in which the musicians confront their past, reveal the secret behind Motown's success. It's these quirky and sometimes tragic characters that made Motown's music so magical. The Funk Brothers were musicians with soul.
Unfortunately, a number of cheesy 'made for television' re-enactments have been interspersed with this wonderful footage, but redemption is found in a stunning array of archival footage from the 60s and 70s that serves to drive home how deep Motown was woven into the fabric of a nation. The work's segment dealing with Motown's shift from purveyors of good time pop to the social conscience of post Vietnam America via the likes of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye is especially telling.
Completing the package is footage from a reunion concert where the Funk Brothers along with the likes of Ben Harper, Chaka Khan, Joan Osbourne and Bootsy Collins belted out Motown's greatest hits to an adoring audience. Shot in glorious 35 mm and boasting larger than life sound courtesy of the legendary Record Plant recording studio you get the feeling that the Funk Brothers finally received their well earned moment in the spotlight that for so many years they were denied. And that's one question the film fails to answer. Why did Berry Gordy treat this group of musicians so shabbily? I guess the reason for this injustice must stay in the shadows a little longer.
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