Judge Adam Arseneau's life ain't nothin' but a gangsta party.
It's just me against the world.
Tupac: Resurrection is a beautiful, entertaining, skillful, and slightly eerie film about Tupac Shakur, rap artist / actor / tragic figure / thug life activist extraordinaire, and the film, shockingly, has a lot of 2Pac in it. Go figure. Part documentary, part memorandum, part living testimony, and part personal confession, this moving film is narrated entirely in Tupac's voice, which is an impressive feat considering that the film was created years after his tragic and violent death.
Facts of the Case
Born in New York, champion of California, Tupac Shakur grew up in a house full of revolution. His mother and stepfather, Black Panther revolutionaries all, raised him in a politically charged, yet financially poor atmosphere. Enrolling in a school for the performing arts put Tupac on a musical path from an early age, and his interests were as diverse as poetry and ballet; but after moving to California as the gangster rap music scene unfolded, his artistic focus became singular. From his early dancing days with Digital Underground to his solo album to his incarcerations to his pinnacle of success and his unfortunate death, Tupac: Resurrection walks through the life and memories of Tupac, narrated by Tupac, as he reflects upon the human being he was, and the life he had created for himself.
Punctuated by rare concert footage and interviews, this movie tells the story of a young man who came from total poverty, beat his way up through the California rap scene, had a Number One record while serving time in jail, left jail a rich man, and ultimately, died in a hail of gunfire at the ridiculous age of 25, all with a smile on his face.
For anyone not into the music, it is possible that 2Pac has an air of Vincent Price-ishness about him; the average layman, for example, may wonder idly if his being dead was, in fact, some sort of weird gray area. Considering that 2Pac has released more albums post-mortem than he ever released while being alive, and is now narrating a feature film about his life (and death), the confusion is understandable. To clear up any misunderstandings: for the record, yes, Tupac died tragically in 1996 after being gunned down in Las Vegas in a drive-by shooting. Though, really, I have no idea about Vincent Price being alive or dead. All I know is, I'm still waiting for my missing replacement egg feet.
Cobbling together pieces from hundreds of hours of interview footage, personal recordings, and taped conversations, the creators of Tupac: Resurrection have assembled a documentary about the life of Tupac, narrated solely with the tiny bits of his words left behind, edited into a seamless and fluidly organic presentation. Far from the typical claptrap interview material offered by many celebrities, there is surprisingly little bloated self-indulgence in his words. Tupac, we find out, was an incredibly introspective, thoughtful, eloquent, and spiritual person, and spent much time discussing life, death, and his own spirituality. Watching this film, we are privy to much of his personal reflection, much rumination, and of course, much of his guilt. The man grew up with absolutely nothing, and then suddenly had more than any one person could know what to do with, all while barely out of high school. His ego was fantastic, but he admits that. His narcissism was self-consuming, but he admits that. The impression of a rap star popularized by MTV, with the fancy cars, the fantastic jewelry, the mansion, the hot tub filled with champagne and loose women, we learn, is not the real Tupac—he simply played one on TV. Despite all talk of being a gangster, a thug, a cold-blooded killer, and a ruthless human being who will do horrible things to your wife in your own neighborhood, Tupac was (surprise, surprise) acting.
At heart, he was a sensitive guy, a likeable guy, a guy who wrote poetry and loved his mother, and simply got in on a cultural movement while the going was good, and made a lot of money doing it. Strip away all the glamour, and Tupac was a man who had a deeper appreciation for life than most people could ever hope to have. And yet, for fleeting moments, we see Tupac falling into the eternal trap of believing his own celebrity, if only for a split second. The tragedy at the core of Tupac: Resurrection is a bitterly cruel one—a split second is all it takes to bring a man down.
Tupac: Resurrection does its best to address the more troubling moments in 2Pac's life, to the extent the film is able. This movie occupies a strange, blurred place in the world of documentary filmmaking, and as such, probably should not be considered a documentary in the pure sense of the word; it resembles an autobiography more than anything else. Having so much of Tupac in the film, in every frame, narrating every word, in a film constructed by people who are unflinching in their love and respect for their subject, Tupac: Resurrection can be, at times, more a straight testimonial to Tupac's memory than a hard-hitting documentary (the word "butt-kissing" comes to mind). As such, words like "impartiality" and "objectivity" can often go flying out the window of your low-riding Brougham Cadillac. It is simply not in this film's inherent nature to impartially criticize Tupac's legacy, his character, or his actions the way a vindictive journalist or jaded film producer would. After all, Tupac himself is doing all the criticizing; and despite being an amazingly open, thoughtful, and introspective human being, he is, after all, only human. So the more troubling moments in Tupac's life—his childhood, his drug-addled mother, his monstrous ego, his sexual promiscuity, his raging narcissism, his stint in a federal penitentiary for sexual assault—are all addressed, but in a wistful, almost nostalgic fashion, filtered through thoughts and memories. We do not learn about the events as a newspaper would report them; instead, we learn about what Tupac remembers from his life experiences, like a carefully penned and pensive memoir, beautiful in composition and form, but also probably unreliable.
Slowly, gradually, we are given a sense of Tupac the man, superimposed by concert footage, interviews, and performances by 2Pac the rap star, threaded together interchangeably. Thus, a distinct sense of two individuals develops. The words we hear, narrated, are thoughtful and reflective, from a kind and benevolent human being, but the images and footage we see on screen are that of a crude, abrasive, and often obnoxious punk. At times, this dichotomy is incredibly divided to the point of being irreconcilable. We see that Tupac is soft-spoken, loves his mother, loves and respects women, writes poetry, and seeks equality between all men…while simultaneously, we see that 2Pac the rapper throws hundred-dollar bills around like paper airplanes, sexually assaults women, fuels urban wars between East Coast and West Coast rappers, beats up people outside casinos, and had a head so far in the clouds that it was in danger of tearing away from his body.
Tupac: Resurrection makes no apologies for this confusion, and neither should it. People are complex, and at its core, this film is the story of a person. There is passion and grace in Tupac: Resurrection; there is humility, but there is also dysfunctional behavior, confusion, and splintering identity crisis, just like in all human beings. The film has a moving vibrancy that a straightforward documentary lacks, because this movie makes a real and meaningful connection with the viewer on a personal level. It is as if we are invited to a private, one-on-one meeting with Tupac the human being (not 2Pac the rapper/persona). We may not be able to trust him to be totally truthful with us, but this does not cheapen the experience of having met him. Yes, Tupac is complex, confusing, contradictory, and at times, downright dishonest with himself, but as anyone who watches this film will find out, he is also an incredibly joyful, personable and downright likeable human being, and the observations he makes about his life have humility, grace, and are startling in their prophetic accuracy. The beauty of this film is that one can easily despise his music, his contribution to popular culture, and his entire persona, and still come away with a profound respect for the individual behind the emerald curtain.
Half an hour into the film, the creepiness of having a dead person narrate his own documentary wears off; one settles into the film amazingly fast. It is an amazing achievement to cobble together audio footage together and assemble it in such a cohesive and convincing fashion. It works so well that it honestly feels like Tupac recorded the narration himself, rather than having it assembled from a limited selection of recordings and interview footage after his death. This is an astonishing feat of filmmaking and audio editing and should be praised as such. But the triumph of this film is a bitter one, of course; what makes Tupac's death especially tragic, and is articulated quite eloquently throughout the film, is the incredible amount of wasted potential in his death. Love him or loathe him, the man had artistic talents—acting ability and musical skill far beyond anything most people could ever hope to possess—and for him to pass away at the age of 25 is especially cruel, like some sort of cosmic tease. But alas, such is the tragedy of every young person's death, is it not?
Moving, bittersweet, entertaining, and incredibly engaging, Tupac: Resurrection should not even be classified as a rap documentary. Rather, this is a testimony to life and death equally, narrated in the words of a man who has experienced both. While admittedly, this is fundamentally irrelevant and a logical impossibility, the illusion nevertheless is such that one would rarely be allowed an opportunity in their lives to experience similar self-reflection. Fallacy or no, to simply observe such a thing is a moving experience. Tupac: Resurrection is a fantastic film, whether you're a rap fan or no rap fan.
As good as the film is, the DVD gives back one better—Tupac: Resurrection looks and sounds fantastic. The transfer, a handsome widescreen anamorphic job, balances itself quite marvelously against the ever-changing quality of archival footage and shifty television broadcast-quality material. Black levels always remain solid and deep, clarity of image always remains sharp, and very little distortion or jagged edges mar the transfer. The film simply looks great. And as for audio, a 5.1 Dolby Surround mix and a 2.0 Dolby Digital mix are included; both sound almost identical to one another, with dialogue centered in the track, music spread throughout the various channels, and well modulated bass response. The 5.1 Surround track spreads the various noises throughout the channels much more effectively, but the difference between the two tracks, clarity/quality-wise is practically nil—both sound superb.
This DVD is jam-packed with over three hours of supplementary features, and of particular note is the commentary track. If there is a supporting cast member in Tupac: Resurrection, it would have to be Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, the silent unseen partner felt throughout the film. A political activist and Black Panther turned crack addict, Afeni Shakur's story is almost as interesting as her son's…but that is for another time. She also became the sole inheritor of Tupac's musical legacy, and rules his empire with an iron hand. Notorious for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing down unauthorized Tupac bootleggers, Afeni also executive produced Tupac: Resurrection and provides a commentary track, along with director Lauren Lazin, plus some surprise guests that drop in from time to time. Other extras include deleted scenes, two music videos, a Malcolm X Dinner speech (one of the earliest video records of Tupac), his criminal deposition, details about the soundtrack, memorials and interviews, including a never-before-seen MTV interview that was pulled from the airing schedule after Tupac's "legal" problems began, and more. Paramount has done a great job filling this DVD with extra content, and fans should not be disappointed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
That Tupac: Resurrection is narrated in Tupac's own voice is this film's outstanding point and failing point simultaneously. This is a one-sided presentation in the best and worst sense of the word. What Tupac: Resurrection lacks more than anything else is an objective voice, an outside opinion, a counterpoint to Tupac, and this is something the filmmakers do not attempt to provide. By keeping the film singularly voiced by Tupac himself, the vocabulary is limited to the previously recorded interviews Tupac himself had created during his short life.
While there is no doubt that the emotional resonance and dramatic effect of keeping Tupac the singular voice in Tupac: Resurrection is something totally unique and outstanding in terms of filmmaking, it puts the viewer in a slightly compromised position in terms of honest documentary-going, since it is doubtful that Tupac recorded hundreds of hours of usable audio discussing, in detail, all his mistakes, flaws, demons and dementias in a detached and genuinely honest fashion. As introspective and self-reflective as a person can be, there are simply things one cannot know about one's self—or at the very least, things we are fundamentally dishonest about. Though Tupac is incredibly self-reflective about his misdeeds, the more poignant and self-defeating admissions in the film are almost embarrassed utterances, tiny admonishments of mistakes made almost sheepishly, like a wolf caught red-handed in full sheep gear (pun intended).
Never forget that Tupac: Resurrection was assembled by people who loved and respected Tupac, and as such, even the more critical parts of the film are not really that critical. Still, this is a Catch-22 if ever there was one. To open up the film to other voices, opinions, and narratives may indeed flesh it out and provide a sense of balance and/or honesty. It would rob the film of its emotional impact and personal grace. Tough call, but I think I would keep the film the way it is.
So much more than a mere rap documentary, Tupac: Resurrection is a stunning achievement, one that catches you completely unprepared to appreciate its awesomeness. It has such surprising grace and down-to-earth appeal. This is a film that could please die-hard fans, casual observers and downright haters of 2Pac simultaneously; and such a universally appealing film is so delightfully rare. Thankfully, Paramount has given this film the treatment it deserves and produced a top-notch DVD release with excellent video and audio quality, with a solid commentary track and excellent supplementary features that expand upon an already fantastic film.
Despite its singular one-sidedness, the film is an introspective, moving, entertaining, and fascinating look into an amazingly complex man, by the man himself. This is Tupac the poet, the artist, the rapper, the thug, and most importantly, the human being—close up, first-hand, for better and worse. And whether you respect the man or dislike him, love or hate his music, or have never even heard of the dude before popping this DVD into your player, one thing is for certain: by the end of the film, you will definitely feel that the world is a sadder and less fortunate place for not having Tupac around in it today.
Fo' shizzle, my bizzle! Not guilty.
Actually, in retrospect, I sentence myself, the Judge, to three months in prison for using the word "shizzle" in a sentence.
Dang. Did it again. Err…make that six months.
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• Audio Commentary by Tupac's Mother Afeni Shakur, Director Lauren Lazin, and Surprise Guests
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