Judge Adam Arseneau tried playing "Tougher Than Leather" by Run-D.M.C. in his room while dancing around in his boxer shorts, but the experience paled in comparison to this DVD. But not in a good way.
"Rap has always been here for many years. When God talked to Moses and any other prophets, he was rappin' with them."—Afrika Bambaata
Russell Simmons presents The Show, a rap documentary/concert film that personifies the state of hip-hop culture in 1995, featuring behind-the-scene looks at the lifestyles, motivations, and performances of the most successful hip-hop entertainers of the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, we are also given nothing in the way of supplementary features, a free-floating aimless documentary and tiny truncated pieces of concert footage to go with it. So, should this DVD get booed right off the stage? Stay tuned, kid!
Facts of the Case
The Show takes us into the world of some of the most popular hip-hop stars in 1995 and gives us a peek into their worlds of tour busses, concert performances, fan adoration, and their mentalities behind their career choices. We also meet some of the casualties in the rap game; rappers that have been either forgotten by the ever-changing state of rap, or have let their celebrity get to their head and now find themselves behind bars. Rap is a business like anything else, and the artists themselves take us into the world of negotiations, concert promotions, and publicity and fan adoration. These scenes of candid interviews are intertwined with explosive concert footage featuring the likes of Craig Mack, Wu-Tang Clan, Tha Dogg Pound, Naughty by Nature, Warren G, Run-D.M.C., The Notorious B.I.G., and more. The film goes back and forth between the two, illustrating both sides of life behind a microphone…because the show never stops, even when the people leave the stadium.
I did not like The Show the first time through. The second time through, I liked it a bit more and went back and softened up my review a touch. Personally, what makes this dislike an even greater pill to swallow is that I probably should have liked this movie a lot more, all things considered. Picture me as ten years old, blasting the likes of Eric B. and Rakeem, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and De La Soul out of my big silver boombox, much to the chagrin of all my peers in public school who were still grooving to the New Kids On The Block (the fools). This movie should have appealed greatly to me, in theory. The Show should have been a sweeping epic of hip-hoppery and rap culture, something grandiose and meaningful, with a lingering message…but instead, it mixes the worst elements of a public service announcement with tiny segments of concert footage, and sort of sits there, languishing in its buffoonery like a fish floundering out of water. It has the right intentions, but gets the presentation jumbled up quite badly.
(Note: throughout this review, I use the terms "rap" and "hip-hop" interchangeably, which could be considered something of a faux pas depending on which side of the camp you live on. First of all: nuts to that. Second of all, committing to one phrase would defeat one of the purposes of The Show, which addresses the very question of a distinction between the two, if any, and tries to ascertain if there is a distinction between the men who make the music, the music that makes the men, the culture that encloses them, and the industry that takes advantage of their success. If you don't like my grammatical choice, then send all complaints to your mamma, care of your sister. Okay, now back to the review.)
Admittedly, the movie isn't really that bad, especially if you are a fan of the artists featured in the film. It has great intentions, and features some great live performances from rappers like Run-D.M.C., Craig Mack, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, and Tha Dogg Pound, though unfortunately the large majority of footage is truncated down to a minute or two of music per band, which is unfortunate. The film interviews a diverse cross-section of rappers from the past and present as well as industry entrepreneurs like Russell Simmons and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (yes, he counts, though in a modern tabloid context of today, it is difficult to remember why), and every once in a while, a gem of an interview comes shining through. There are some downright hilarious moments, like watching Method Man chew out the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan on a bullet train to Tokyo, which is almost worth the price of admission on its own. Some of the footage is undeniably compelling, revealing, and amusing in its examination of the up-and-coming rap stars of 1995 and the lamentations of those who have been forgotten over the years. These forgotten artists in particular are telling and powerful…fame is a fickle mistress, and the ever-changing hip-hop culture leaves many behind.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, anyone? The Twins? Yeah, I didn't think so.
To me, the best part of this film involves the hip-hop stars of yesteryear; icons like Kurtis Blow, Raheem from the Furious Five, Kid Creole, Mellie Mel, and assorted company sitting in a diner discussing the finer points of rap history, touting their own contributions to rap. For example, in one scene, a debate is ongoing as to who coined the phrase "yes yes y'all" into modern rap. You know, like, "Yes, yes y'all…and you don't stop…keep on rockin' the sure shot, etc." Okay, with me so far? So when they finally agree that, in fact, it was Kid Creole who used the term first, they look into the camera, and announce that anyone who has ever used this in their rap owes him money. Kid Creole smiles, stands up, and takes a dramatic bow. Classic. To the film's credit, The Show does very well showing the proper respect to the origins of the music and the pioneers who elevated it into modern popular culture…personally, I feel this is the film's strongest point. Frankly, I would have liked to see more of this footage; hell, if you had given me a DVD full of it, I would have been sorely tempted to give it perfect marks. Seriously.
Outside of this old-school respect shown, and the hilariously interesting fact that yes, Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appears in The Show, there really isn't anything more to this film of great appeal. The Show is an awfully preachy film, and one gets the impression that this movie had lofty ambitions; as if trying to ambiguously classify "hip-hop" as a whole or show hip-hop as it really was, the good sides and the bad, and to be some kind of warning for kids getting into the business. The money and fame will change you, says the film, but unless it changes your thug attitude, it will destroy you…that sort of thing. Sure, yeah! I can see how that works…I mean, by combining footage of artists touring around the planet in cramped trains and tour busses interjected with blisteringly raucous concert footage, the interconnection dichotomy of allegory w…ahh, who am I kidding? The Show is a mess.
The majority of the footage in this film involves completely nonsensical interviews with obviously stoned rappers babbling on about whatever-the-heck, until it cuts to thirty seconds of live performance, and then back to Russell Simmons talking about the "industry" and how it changes you. Repeat on loop for an hour and a half. Feel your brain explode. As much respect as I may have for these people on an individual basis, most of the rappers featured in this film act like total idiots, and even if the an interviewee had a coherent though to express in their head, most likely it was completely obscured behind all the ganja smoke. Near the start of the film, Russell Simmons takes us into prison to meet Slick Rick, who at the time was languishing in a jail cell for attempted murder. Personally, I loved the Ruler as a kid, and I would have hoped that he would have anything relevant to say, at all, about anything…but not really. Also, at some point, the film also becomes a Russell Simmons infomercial, discussing his business ventures and clothing line and such, which is what you can do when you are stinking rich and have a movie made about you (well, sort of).
Without a narrator (interviews with Russell Simmons set what little tone and direction this documentary has), the film floats around aimlessly, not really sure what it wants to say about rap, praising it with one hand while giving it the finger with the other. We get only a few salient points that manage to float across while watching the film…rappers like drugs, rappers like girls, and were it not for rap, a large amount of rappers would be breaking into your house and stealing your television (one rapper actually admits this, almost word for word). All the rappers seem to agree that fame changes rappers, and that most are unprepared for it. Back in the day, rappers would take command of a crowd of thousands, and take control of every word to make them dance. They had experience dealing with people, with notoriety, and then they made their money when the music exploded. Today, rappers get popular before they have any experience, since they are made, not discovered. Fame comes to them suddenly, to these people with bad habits, stressful lives, and demons in their closet, these people living gangster lifestyles. The money and fame should theoretically liberate them, suggests the movie, but often, it doesn't, and here is where The Show turns into a public service announcement for up-and-coming rappers. Russell Simmons is, for example, clearly a man with an urban upbringing; from his mannerisms and speech, he is far too old to be anything but an old thug, and yet, his immense wealth saves him from violence and drama. "I've got a Rolls Royce," says Simmons, "I don't want to hurt nobody. The only drama I want is from Naomi Campbell." Can't argue with that logic.
The film is presented in a 1.66:1 letterboxed transfer, which in this day and age feels like a rip-off. Very little reason exists anymore not to have every DVD in a full anamorphic transfer…letterboxing is so passé. At times, a faux film effect is applied to the picture to give it that vintage aged look, but most of the time, the film just has that vintage aged look period, and for a film only from 1995, really makes no sense. Though the transfer presents the material with excellent clarity and sharpness with few digital defects or edging issues, the film itself is damaged and incredibly grainy, similar to a 16mm home video film. This isn't the best looking film, but considering the probable suspect quality of the source material, it is a passable presentation.
The audio, a Dolby Surround 2.0 mix, sounds good, especially during the concert sequences, which were recorded well, but the transition between the incredibly loud, bass-aggressive concert to the extremely quiet dialogue of a hushed interviewee will have you waging an eternal thumb struggle on your remote volume control. The mix does a good job of pushing the score to all channels, keeping dialogue mostly in the center. The mix would score higher marks if the dialogue were better balanced with the music. Also, the lack of a surround sound track is sort of suspicious, considering all the space the disc saves by not having any extra features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This film really isn't as bad as I may have led you to believe, especially on a second viewing. I found the first time through that The Show was an unbelievable waste of my time, but on the second viewing, less so. However, what this film should have done was to separate its elements, to divide cleanly between concert DVD and rap documentary, to gain a sense of focus. If we had a DVD worth of concert footage, say, and a DVD worth of documentary and interviews, The Show would have been a much better presentation. The points the rappers are making are valid, believe it or not; sure, a lot of it is crap, but the message of the film is a good one, at its core. It deserves its own stage to make its case. Likewise, the concert footage rocks the spot, and it deserves to be seen in its entirety, not merely in tantalizing tidbits…hell man, I want to see more of that kick-ass Run-D.M.C. set!
And while we are on the subject of tidbits…what's with the no extra content? For shame, you guys, for shame.
It is interesting, though, to think about this movie in context, and see how fame changed the careers of the rappers present. Some rappers simply disappeared off the planet forever (Craig Mack, The Twins, et cetera), some destroyed themselves or were destroyed (Notorious B.I.G.), and some, err, seem to be exactly the same, or doing better than ever (Snoop Dogg). There might be a point to this line of inquiry, but then again, there might not. It is the mystery of the dance.
Hardly an unmitigated disaster, The Show nevertheless is convoluted, cryptic, and contradictory and has no idea how to say what it wants to its viewers. Half the film seems to stress hip-hop appreciation, of the culture and the rappers with glorified concert footage and praise, but the rest seems to warn about the industry, the state of rap, and hip-hop culture and its social culture.
Judged as a concert film, The Show is weak, since it barely contains enough material to be classified as one; as a documentary, the film is far too unstructured, too rambling, and too divergent in its interests to articulate itself convincingly. Certainly worth a look for fans of the musical material included, but as a straight rap documentary, The Show is a decidedly mixed bag, all wrapped up in a bare-boned DVD presentation. No encore for me, please.
The court reduces the charges against The Show to a misdemeanor offense, mostly because The Show does give respect to the pioneers of the industry, and the intentions of the filmmakers were certainly good. Let it be known that the court is a sucker for the heartbeat props.
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