It ain't where ya from, it's where ya hat at.
Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics and Laughs.
Facts of the Case
In the tradition of the cult classic This is Spinal Tap comes Fear of a Black Hat, a comical documentary about the controversial gangsta rap group N.W.H. (aka Niggaz Wit Hats). Through the lens of documentary filmmaker Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons, Gridlock'd), viewers will get a glimpse at a day in the life of these tough-as-nails artists, as well as their career trials and tribulations. N.W.H. is made up of three members: Ice Cold (writer/director Rusty Cundieff, Tales from the Hood), Tasty Taste (Larry B. Scott, Revenge of the Nerds), and Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence, K-Pax). As the camera follow the rappers though their daily routines, viewers are privy to N.W.H.'s most infamous fights, altercations, and general screw ups. Watch as a woman breaks up the band, Yoko Ono style! Thrill to a meeting of various rappers, all of whom have the word "ice" in their names! Yes, it's all here—everything you've always wanted to know about gangsta rap, but were afraid to ask…because you had a Fear of a Black Hat.
There is a fine line between funny and stupid. In writer/director Rusty Cundieff's spoof Fear of a Black Hat, that particular line often fazes in and out—there are moments of sheer hilarity and others that, sadly, seem like untapped wells of possibilities. It's obvious that Rob Reiner's brilliant This is Spinal Tap was the inspiration for Fear of a Black Hat. Interview segments, musical performances, and comedy skits all harkens back to the days of Tap's wacky antics. Unfortunately, Fear of a Black Hat can't quite keep pace.
Everything about Fear of a Black Hat is made to be laughed at. Just look at a few of the song titles: "Booty Juice," "My Peanuts," "Grab Yo Stuff." These are not tunes to be taken seriously (and thankfully, Cundieff doesn't try to). The characters are all broad strokes of comedy—Larry B. Scott plays the tough guy, Cundieff is the most talkative mofo of the group, and Lawrence is the quiet, pensive (and by pensive I mean he looks like he's thinking a lot, though I doubt it's very deep). Like Spinal Tap's empty headed band members, N.W.H. are essentially clueless entertainers who all have vacancy signs when it comes to producing meaningful rap music.
The biggest flaw in Fear of a Black Hat is in the staging—many of the comedy bits look set up and rehearsed. Even the dialogue often sounds stiff and penned. Though it doesn't come close to touching Spinal Tap's ludicrous genius, Fear of a Black Hat does have some moments that sparkle. In one scene Tasty Taste shows Nina around his "compound," complete with a hellish assortment of firearms and targets placed on the lawn to look like Klu Klux Klansmen. In yet another scene, Ice is pulled over by the cops. His subsequent arrest plays out like a horrendous game of Twister. But don't worry, bystanders film the entire event, Rodney King-style. And if nothing else, Fear of a Black Hat proves that the most dangerous profession for a white man is being a rap group's music manager.
I can recommend Fear of a Black Hat to comedy fans, but don't expect it to eclipse any of Christopher Guest's efforts. If you really want a good look at the music industry, check out This is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind. But, in a pinch, Fear of a Black Hat will do nicely.
What the @$%&!? Fear of a Black Hat is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, a practical first for a Columbia TriStar release. From my recollection (and I haven't seen all of their discs), Columbia has always been a supporter of the anamorphic format. So what gives? In any case, the transfer itself looks decent with the colors and black levels appropriately even. Flesh tones have a natural hue to them and the print is free of most major defects (save for a few specks of grain and dirt). While the lack of an enhanced widescreen transfer is disappointing, overall the image is in decent shape.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. Unfortunately, this mix doesn't have a lot going for it—there are a few effects in the side speakers, and that's about it. Fear of a Black Hat would have been a great candidate for a new 5.1 remix—alas, fans are stuck with this lackluster soundtrack. The good news is that the effects, dialogue, and raunchy music is clear of excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Fans of Fear of a Black Hat will have much to rejoice over. Though they've neglected to provide a decent anamorphic transfer, Columbia has added on a few fine extra features to this disc with some help from Cundieff and the rest of N.W.H. Here's a run down of what y'all get:
Commentary by Writer/Director Rusty Cundieff: Cundieff seems like a nice guy, and this commentary is filled with lots of production anecdotes and information about the story and its origins. Some of the recollections are bland while others are scintillatingly naughty (one scene involved Cundieff in a hot tub with two porn stars—and he can't tell you what happened under the water). Overall fans should get a kick out of this commentary track.
Deleted Scenes: Fourteen scenes in non-anamorphic widescreen are available. None of these are overly exciting, though the intro to "Come Pet the P.U.S.S.Y." is pretty funny—when you try to connect a song title like that to political unrest…well, you get the point. Though most viewers will only watch most of these once, it's still nice that Columbia added them to the disc.
Cast Interviews: This was most likely the least interesting supplement on the disc. Cundieff, Scott, and Lawrence all show up for some present day interviews, most of them doing impersonations of the characters they played in the movie. There isn't a lot to these interviews, though Cundieff does like to use the word "shit" a lot. Fluffy and fairly insubstantial stuff.
Hosted Version of the Film: Cundieff, Scott, and Lawrence sit in for a few minutes before the film starts to act all tough and funny. Har-har-har. Next.
Music Videos: The original music videos to the song parodies are included under this section, including: "My Peanuts," "Grab Yo Stuff," "Guerrillas in the Midst," "Booty Juice," "F**k the Security Guards," "Come Pet the P.U.S.S.Y.," "I'm Just a Human," "Granny Says Kick Yo Black Ass," "Wear Yo Hat (Buried and Bald 1 & 2)," "White Cops on Dope," "Ice Froggy Frog," (a spoof of Snoop Doggy Dog), and a commercial for the soundtrack. The bottom line: if you liked the movie, you may get a kick out of these videos.
Finally there are a two theatrical trailers for Fear of a Black Hat, as well as trailers for various Columbia TriStar films.
In the ensuing years Cundieff has gone on to direct a horror film (Tales from the Hood) and became a correspondent on documentary guru Michael Moore's TV Nation. Fear of a Black Hat may end up being his crowning achievement. Though it's no comedy classic, it includes enough laughs to make it worthwhile. Columbia's lack of an anamorphic transfer is both disappointing and shameful.
Fear of a Black Hat pasts muster and may make a nice bookend for This is Spinal Tap. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Rusty Cundieff
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