Judge Victor Valdivia's autobiography is also called Dirty, for reasons you really don't want to know.
The official ODB biography.
Hip-hop fans should note that Dirty is not an unauthorized DVD by any means—it bears the official logo of the Wu-Tang Clan, and all of the surviving Wu-Tang members are all interviewed, as are members of Ol' Dirty Bastard's family. Director/producer Stephon Turner also has licensed several Wu-Tang and ODB songs. However, the slipshod presentation and sometimes sloppy filmmaking too often make it seem like the cheapest and shoddiest bargain-basement drivel. That's too bad, because while Dirty isn't perfect, it does do a reasonably good job of presenting the story of ODB's life and death in a coherent and understandable fashion. It's actually better than Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan, the more hyped official Wu-Tang DVD, even if it doesn't have that DVD's fancy packaging and intricate graphics. Anyone who has been waiting for a detailed study of ODB's life and death will find this a surprisingly decent DVD, even if it isn't as good as it should have been.
Here's what Dirty does right: tell the biography of Ol' Dirty Bastard (nee Russell Jones) and chronicle his rise as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Members of ODB's family are interviewed and give a portrait of him as more than the drugged-out screw-up he frequently played onstage with Wu-Tang. He was often far more self-aware and shrewd than his image and was far more responsible for the group's success than he was given credit for. It's particularly interesting to see many of Wu-Tang's other members, including Method Man, remark that they joined Wu-Tang only because ODB was in it. There's also frequent use of Wu-Tang and ODB songs to demonstrate that he really was a more skilled and talented artist than he pretended to be. The stories about his life from his parents, sisters, cousins, and even friends from his neighborhood are especially affecting. For all his foibles, the members of ODB's family clearly felt a great deal of affection for him, and Dirty does a superb job of conveying it.
Where Dirty goes wrong is that Turner tends to go overboard in glossing over the negative aspects of ODB's life. Judging by this film, you'd think that ODB's death in 2004 was some sort of mystery, or that his excessive problems with the law were solely the result of a government conspiracy. No, ODB was a drug addict and, like all addicts, he did irreparable harm to himself and brought enormous hardship to those around him. To say that is not to demean his talent or cast him as an unredeemable villain—it's just the truth. When Turner gives over way too much screen time for ODB's relatives to proclaim that they believed his proclamations that the government was out to get him and that government agents implanted a chip in his body to track his every movement, it's hard not to want to enter the TV screen to sit them all down and explain how heavy cocaine use brings on hallucinations and paranoia. Instead of wasting time with half-baked conspiracy theories, why not try to help viewers understand just how destructive ODB's drug use was? Why not, in other words, try to extract some good from ODB's sad, tragic story that others could benefit from? The first half of Dirty is thoughtful and incisive without being mawkish. Why is the second half so messy and incomplete?
Special mention must be made to SKD, the company that put out this DVD. Their release has to stand as an insult to both Turner and ODB's fans. The entire film is programmed as one selection on the disc, with absolutely no chapter stops; if you want to watch a particular part, be prepared to use the rewind and fast-forward buttons a lot. There are also no menus, subtitles, or extras, and the full-screen transfer and Dolby Digital stereo mix are both on par with a VHS tape from 1995. This is inexcusable in 2009. How much more contempt can a company show its customers? Why not just write "SHAMELESS CASH GRAB" on each DVD case with a Magic Marker?
This lack of attention wouldn't matter much if Dirty was just another cheap attempt to milk ODB's story for money. Turner, however, deserves better than this. As flawed as Dirty is, it does attempt to really examine ODB's life in an intelligent and sensitive way, and, even if Turner does lack the courage to really ask the hard questions that fans deserve, he does at least get halfway there. For anyone interested in ODB and the Wu-Tang Clan, Dirty is worth a look, but be warned that the shoddy presentation and Turner's directorial failings downgrade what could have been a truly important DVD into one that's only above average.
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