ebogjonson.com's screened archive

on movies, television and other projections

August 31, 2007

friday youtubery: sad dance music

All my favorite sad songs are house-ish and minimal these days, as in the "Radio Slave's Remix for K" version of Trentemoller's "Moan":

(You can hear my preferred version of that song here.)

Or LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends:"

Speaking of versions and remixes, here is the Franz Ferdinand version of the same song:

I have to admit that there is a raced division of labor in my sad music preferences, in that I find most R&B moping boring, but maintain a soft spot for moping white alt. types. (What's that line about one of the features of white supremacy being an irrational love of white people?) I think there is a relevant Armond White article somewhere about how popular black music is no longer a venue that supports much in the way of vulnerability, although I imagine that (if I can find it! There is no online archive of The City Sun articles) was written before the age of Kanye West:

The big difference between the personas of Kanye and 50 Cent, and yes we're going to keep talking about this, is that Kanye makes personal pop music, whereas 50 mostly just makes popular pop music. 50 doesn't vent his soul, and he's not particularly concerned with coming across as an actual human being; instead, he blows himself out into this indestructible ghetto superhero character. Kanye, by contrast, is just as arrogant, but his arrogance brings with it hesitation and vulnerability and uncertainty. At least for me, there's always been a certain fantasy-baseball-camp appeal to Kanye: this is what happens when a typical dorked-out rap fan with no pretensions toward street-cred or hard-scrabble origins suddenly gains access to the mysterious world of rap stardom. [full Breihan]

Posted by ebogjonson at 5:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 28, 2007

more roadwarriorz

I have to say, Sophia, the fact that you intend to drive around in that thing really indicates there's a higher level to yer game than even I, your humbly supportive droog, though there was. I mean, that's some kind of crazy Mad Max shit right there.

What the hell are you guys going to keep in the back?

(For context on the above, go here.)

Posted by ebogjonson at 8:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 22, 2007

fox attacks: iran

plus ca change.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 21, 2007

i'm a african - dead prez machinima

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas + Dead Prez + machinima = ? [via wayneandwax del.icio.us]

Posted by ebogjonson at 9:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 17, 2007

friday youtubery

h/t Matt Shadetek and rupture on the two youtubes directly above

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 13, 2007

a marine, a muslim girl and youtube walk into a bar

On this coming September 11, one of my buds is setting out from NYC with one of her buds on a cross country road trip "in search of post-apocalyptic America." She's Qatari and her pal is an ex-Marine who fought in both Iraq wars, and their plan is to drive deep into some crazier parts of the country Borat-style in hopes of creating as many different punchlines as possible for the underlying, Odd Couple (who happen to be childhood friends) set-up. (You should subscribe to her feed.)

(Actually, considering that she really is Qatari and he really is a Marine, I guess it's not Borat style at all.)

The clip above is a semi-related trip to one of their long-lost childhood homes, which ended up some kind of meth-lab. I'll post more of them as she sends them in.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 13, 2007

happy friday

It's hard being a black man in the working world! TGIF, indeed!


Posted by ebogjonson at 3:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

March 30, 2007

la bella mafia


Me, Mike Vazquez, Anand Balakrishnan Sukhdev Sandhu and Binyavanga Wainaina are all in the new issue of Bidoun.

Mike is also in Slate this week.

What's that Ice Cube lyric again?

Had to do a week in the county
A piece of cake it was just like a party
Cause in the county you know everybody


Posted by ebogjonson at 1:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 24, 2007

asymetrical nikki

I'm not really surprised that Mel Gibson told Cal State Northridge assistant prof Alicia Estrada to fuck-off, this after teach called his Mayan blood-orgy Apocalypto racist. What does surprise me is that usually tough-minded folks, like, LA Weekly's usually spot-on Nikki Finke (or some HuffPo commenters), think Gibson was "provoked." Showing the proverbial white slip Finke writes:

Yes, it's true that Mel Gibson cursed an assistant professor and Mayan community leader -- but only after the duo disrupted a question-and-answer session at a Southern California University which was screening his Apocalypto Thursday night. [full finke]

The awful, awful disruption that so provoked Gibson? The worst I've been able to gather from published accounts is that the two protesters refused to give up the mic and read "a lengthy statement in Spanish." I guess Gibson's defenders must be part of the "English-only" crowd, as when I was in college no disruption worthy of the name "protest" didn't at least involve shouting and blocking entrances, maybe a chant and a pie. Not to defend youthful indiscretion, but in contrast poor, poor Mel only had to listen to a translation.

Tellingly, Gibson's didn't seem to boil over until after the so-called disruptors were being led away by campus rent-a-cops. Finke again:

Gibson was asked if their mike should be turned off. "Let them continue," he said. But some students yelled out "shut up" and "sit down" at the protesters. Finally, a campus police officer ended the disruption by leading Estrada and her friend from the room. About half the class applauded. Gibson, his face now red, fired back with his expletive. "He told her to 'Fuck off, lady, get a history book, and read," student Guagan recounted. His parting shot was "Make your own movie!"

What a complete, punk, coward move! Gibson maintains his cool throughout but for some reason just can't keep it in his pants at the sight of two brown folks being led away by the police. This is classic, yahoo-racist behavior: act all friendly and professional, and then, once you're absolutely sure the crowd and the fuzz are on your side, go all red in face and the give the offending coloreds a proper what-for.

The real provocation here as I see it isn't two people holding onto a mic for too long and forcing 130 people to listen to Spanish, it's the persistent, unbearable whiteness of Hollywood. (To her credit, Finke has written well about these issues previously, but not today.) We're supposed to take as neutral and non-provocative the fact that hundreds (if not thousands) of (mostly) white folks in Hollywood diligently devoted years and tens of millions of dollars to making, distributing, marketing and defending a racially-charged, pretentious and ultimately middling adventure flick, but god forbid someone hold onto a microphone for 20 minutes, at which point folks come down with cases of outraged, wilting vapors. The underlying assumption is that Gibson is somehow being mau-mau'd by media coverage of his outburst, i.e. he's a victim, which is as much of a crock as his movie.

But, of course, this is a Hollywood kerfuffle, so the rights, freedoms and fragile temperaments of rich, moronic movie people are - no pun intended - paramount. Those who claim Gibson was provoked make the same defense of white privilege that John Ridley made in the HuffPo when he asked re: Kramergate:

[W]hat exactly do you call a couple of black guys who go to a public place where people paid money to enjoy themselves and who then begin to yell and scream at the person on stage who is trying to do his job? [full talking androidery]

Right. I guess there's no reaction that's out of bounds or unprofessional when you're white and in show business and there's money changing hands.

The F-Bomb aside, Gibson's parting shot - "make your own movie!" - may be like shouting "win your own lottery," but it also gets us closer to his (as well as the rest of Hollywood's) underlying anxiety about our increasingly multicultural market-place: if Mayans are making movies, who the heck needs Mel Gibson to make Apocalypto? Be careful what you wish for Mel; you wouldn't want to end up as the D.W. Griffith of the Mayan cinema.

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 23, 2007

if they're so smart why does the movie suck?

from gaming site kotaku:

Reign Over Me must be one of the first Hollywood films, if not the first, to deal with games thematically and intelligently. While other industry pundits try to figure out how to take the latest blockbuster game and turn it into a movie or vice versa, Reign Over Me already has an insightful leg up: Let the games speak for themselves. Characters bond through games and lose themselves in them, only to find themselves again. They enjoy the simple act of play. "We're starting to get people in Hollywood who have perspective of what the video game experience is like," says Roush, "what it can feel like. And all that gets integrated into Reign Over Me." [full article]

The writer of the above article is right to key in on the fact Reign Over Me uses an old game - Shadow of the Colossus - as opposed to promoting a PS3 title, but too bad the rest of the movie seems to be sentimental pap. I haven't seen Reign Over Me, so maybe the whole thing will turn out to actually have something novel to say gaming, but I somehow doubt it.

Sometimes gamers are so desperate for to be taken seriously that we'll see profundities where there's just a game. A crap movie dealing might deal with your pet interest "thematically and intelligent" is no breakthrough.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:10 PM | Permalink

October 21, 2006


Okay, so maybe he's not really on the run, making this less of a saga.

Where in the world is Wesley Snipes?

In Namibia.

When the actor was indicted on eight counts of tax fraud Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Paul I. Perez said Snipes had not been arrested because authorities did not know where he was.

The TV show "Inside Edition" found Snipes in Namibia, where he is renting a house for $6,000 a month while he films the movie "Gallowwalker." He has been in the African nation for seven weeks, the show reported. [full story]

Maybe he is there having a baby with Brad Pitt.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:44 PM | Permalink

October 18, 2006



1 - oh, schnap!

Wesley Snipes, whose flash-and-dash acting style carried him from the streets of the South Bronx to movie stardom, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy and tax fraud, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Snipes fraudulently claimed refunds totaling nearly $12 million in 1996 and 1997 on income taxes already paid. The star of the "Blade" trilogy and other movies, including "Jungle Fever" and "White Men Can't Jump," also was charged with failure to file returns from 1999 through 2004.

The whereabouts of Snipes, 44, could not be determined, said Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Middle District of Florida.

"We made an attempt to contact him through his attorneys and now with the news conference," Cole said in a telephone interview. "Maybe he'll find out from the media and turn himself in." [full story]

2 - Can I tell you a story? I once had a roommate named Wesley and one day I left a work notebook open in the living room that had the words "WESLEY FUCKING SNIPES!!!" written in big marker on a page. I think it had something to do with a piece I was writing, but for the rest of the day my roommate was kind of salty with me, so finally I was like: "Dude. What is your deal?" And he was like: "What? What? Worried I'm gonna snipe at you?"

Funny, right?

3 - Am I a bad person because I keep wanting post: Run, Wesley! Motherfucking RUN!!!!


I think I might be. Also: I need to call my accountant. Quarterly self-employment taxes are a bitch.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:34 PM | Permalink

October 13, 2006

rips tamara


Tamara Dobson aka Cleopatra Jones dead at 59.

A six foot-plus kung fu fighting model in a fur hat. What could be hotter than that.

It's strange to think to think that she was only 59. I am getting old enough myself to make gym and dining decisions that are largely intended to keep me relatively spry at that age.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:20 PM | Permalink

September 18, 2006

wired to the max

What's that old line about a dollar and a dream? We live in a media age where if you have a laptop, a camera and a crew of trusted, agile friends you can make some pretty funny shit pretty easily, as in this parody of The Wire below. Is there a black lonelygirl15 out there?

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:50 PM | Permalink

September 8, 2006

The Wire is God

HBO's the Wire is back

Not that you asked, but this Sunday I am having a viewing party for the season premiere of The Wire. I recommend that those of you progressive folks who are all up in arms about this fraud being broadcast by ABC get together with someone who has HBO and watch The Wire. Besides getting in on what is among the best dramas ever produced for television, you can also register your discontent with the cultural politics implicit in ABC's 9/11 fakeudrama. You can't get father from that shit than the Wire.

On 9/11 itself I don't think I'll be watching anything, so that takes care of dissenting from fakeudrama Part 2. My man Jim is going to be in LA that night. Jim and I used to work together at Community Connect and although I believe he had already left for grad school that particular September, when he came back to NYC for the holidays we had numerous, completely freaked out drinks where we thought at length about the attacks, our lives, what we thought might be coming next. It will be good to see him.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:20 AM | Permalink

September 7, 2006

ABC is the new FOX News (updated)

Bill Clinton's not to happy about the upcoming fake 9/11 movie on ABC:

Clinton pointedly refuted several fictionalized scenes that he claims insinuate he was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to care about bin Laden and that a top adviser pulled the plug on CIA operatives who were just moments away from bagging the terror master, according to a letter to ABC boss Bob Iger obtained by The Post.

The former president also disputed the portrayal of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as having tipped off Pakistani officials that a strike was coming, giving bin Laden a chance to flee.

"The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," the four-page letter said.

The movie is set to air on Sunday and Monday nights. Monday is the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

Based on the 9/11 commission's report, the miniseries is also being provided to high schools as a teaching aid - although ABC admits key scenes are dramatizations. [full story]

In addition to the sin of general fakery, the truly eff'd up thing is that they're going to distribute this crap to high schools as a "teaching aid," thereby insuring another generation of citizens is properly misinformed.

I don't watch FOX News and I can easily chuck ABC. The only show I ever watched on there with any regularity was Lost, and I decided those guys were completely making shit up as they go along after the finale to last season.

(Maybe the headline for this post should be: FAKE ABC 9/11 MINISERIES IS THE NEW LOST?)

UPDATE: Here is a link to a discussion of the fake teaching aids associated with this fake movie.


On a related note, I wasted a few precious minutes of my life watching one of Bush's terror speeches this morning. I think he said the words "safe" and "safer" about 50 times. As Glenn Greenwald writes, this neocon obsession with safety is a supreme irony:

So much of the neoconservative warrior cries are built on an ethos of deep fear, of exactly the desperate desire to be protected and saved which Steyn and company claim is the hallmark of the girlish, soul-less West. As they strike the warrior pose, they are desperately willing, even eager, to fundamentally change the character and principles of our republic and to sacrifice the core liberties which define it because they are scared and want, more than anything else, to be protected.

Do you want to hear what a person sounds like when they really are -- to use Steyn's words -- "weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade"? Here is Bush loyalist Sen. John Cornyn, explaining why we should allow the President to break the law and eavesdrop on our conversations without any oversight: "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." And here is Pat Roberts, showing how willing he is to trade all American values in the hope of being protected from the things he fears: "I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead." That "rationale" means we do anything -- give up all freedoms, relinquish all values -- because desperately trying to stay alive is the only thing that matters. [full post]

It isn't safe and nothing these people are doing is making us safer.

Posted by ebogjonson at 8:45 AM | Permalink

August 28, 2006

wash my hair, please

Anglophone African shampoo advert, circa 1960, via we make money not art:

Also on youtube, an ad for bug spray from the Ivory Coast:

That last one strikes me as a potential parody, but then again Kola Boof struck me as a web-art performance piece the first time I encountered her.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:47 AM | Permalink

July 31, 2006

blaxploitation, part I

we are black revolutionaries

This article originally appeared in the Village Voice on June 27, 1995.

Nobody showed for my blaxploitation viewing party except for one woman who wanted "Chocolate" as a pseudonym.

Village Voice, June 27, 1995
Blaxploitation, Part I

Nobody showed for my blaxploitation viewing party except for one woman who wanted "Chocolate" as a pseudonym. Cole had gotten green around the gills he night before and taken to a sick bed, while W. called me from a friend's place to explain that they were making "barbecue" and wouldn't be over until later. (That must have been some good barbecue, because they didn't show either.)

I think Chocolate was a little annoyed by the lack of attendance ("You mean it's just me?"), but I knew she wouldn't let me down. In college, we were the kind of overly ironic black people who did recreational drugs and watched cult films and were therefore considered liabilities to the race. These days, reminders of that time tend to fill Chocolate with a nervous nostalgia. I didn't have any weed to take the edge off (it was with the "barbecue," unfortunately), so I just popped a tape in and hoped for the best.

Chocolate had already seen Superfly so we started with Foxy Brown. As the trailers spooled by she asked who was going to be at "the conference."

"What conference?"

"The conference that they're showing all these movies for."

I told her Film Forum was having a retrospective of blaxploitation flicks and these were the first two being screened. She rolled her eyes at me. I wondered out loud if the genre maybe embarrassed her.

"No, I just want to know why they're showing them. White people run the Film Forum, right?"

"As far as I can tell."

"So why are they having it? 'Cause it's the summer so it's time for everybody to get loose or something?"

"I guess."

For a long while Chocolate only comments on Pam Grier's breasts. "Look at her boobs," she says. "They're nice and big and she has this old fashioned black woman's body. She'd have to be harder now to be a star, like she worked out, but she has a really flat stomach even though she's pretty curvy."

"Do you feel affirmed by that?"

"Only when she's not getting beat up and raped."

Chocolate decided near the middle of Foxy Brown that she didn't really like it. "Does Pam Grier always play a prostitute?"

I told her that I had seen her play a nurse, a voodoo priestess, and a magazine photographer, but Chocolate wasn't impressed: "She gets tied up and raped by those rednecks. How come that all goes on forever but the scenes with her [black] boyfriend are so short? I thought these were supposed to be for black audiences. Why would a black audience want to watch a black woman tied up getting raped by some fat rednecks?"

"'Cause it's summertime and everybody wants to get loose?"

"No, seriously."

"What do you expect? American International Pictures was always into the exploitation end of things, like biker flicks and low-budget horror." I knew something about this from when sex was the main event in blaxploitation flicks for me, a neat way to pass off more prurient interests as film connoisseurship and race consciousness. In college, all three melded into endlessly loopy discussions of theory. A room full of my friends (high as kites to the last lit/cinema major) could sit and spin meditations on intentionality and "low" art, on black masculine posturing, on hustling as a functional metaphor for the black intellectual classes and the cut of Pam Grier's bell-bottom pants, as one of us rewound over the same two minutes of Scream Blacula Scream like it was some wigged out Zapruder film.

This wasn't quite happening with Foxy Brown today, though.

"I thought this was supposed to be really funky and crazy," says Chocolate, a little sad. "This is just crazy and trashy."

"Don't you like her clothes and her Afro?"

"The Afro's cool and I like what she's wearing now [black leather pants with a short black leather jacket, a black and white blouse cut on a low horizontal line across her breast] but I don't know..."

"So you don't like it."

"I don't think they should be discarded. I mean, they're like those black collectibles, like those porcelain Mammies and little lawn jockey salt shakers. I don't think they should be destroyed, but I wouldn't want to own one."

Things had gotten a little grim so I ask Chocolate if she thought Foxy Brown's rape is where Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the rape scene in Pulp Fiction.


"Well, the rapists are rednecks in both movies and the ropes are very s/m, hence the Gimp."

Chocolate finishes the last of the beer off, mulling that one over. "I can see Sam Jackson being Priest from Superfly...."

"Right. They're both trying to get-out-the-game."

"...but you're saying Ving Rhames is really Pam Grier."

"Exactly. He's Foxy and Bruce Willis is a young Tarantino watching this movie, only he's so twistedly into the black charisma thing that he can't decide whether to identify with Pam Grier or just get in line to fuck her."

"But if that were the case, then Quentin-slash-Bruce Willis would want to get with Ving Rhames."

"True, but Quentin doesn't run deep that way, so he compartmentalizes his desires so that his Bruce Willis stand-in can rescue Foxy-slash-Ving Rhames..."

"Acting out his black-hero identification."

"Right--while he also gets to fuck another Pam Grier stand-in himself because he's married to a black nurse in Pulp Fiction. And Pam Grier plays a nurse in Coffy."

"But that's a whole other movie!"

I smile big, white, triumphant teeth at her. "Your point being?"

Another friend comes over during Foxy Brown's last five minutes. When he chides me for not having enough beer, Chocolate takes to calling him Ripple, O-Dog, Forty-Dog, et cetera. I tell him he'll just be Forty in my piece.

"That's cool. Hey-this is Foxy Brown, right? The thing about this movie is that you're like six minutes in and--Breasts."

"It is," says Chocolate.

"That or she's about to go down on this white guy. Or is that Coffy?"

Chocolate suddenly gasps. One of Foxy's compatriots is about to cut the white drug dealer's penis off.

"Aw shit," says Forty. "This is the best part."

It happens off-screen but Chocolate can't watch anyway.

"Curiously enough," opines Forty, "a lot of these movies were written by white people. That's deep: white guys writing about getting their dicks cut off by black women with big tits."

"This is good too." Foxy is taking the penis to the guy's evil boss-cum-girlfriend and Forty is breaking the scene down for us. "Now boss lady's gone through so much in this movie, right? Business all fucked up, probably going to jail, but what really fucks her up is when her boyfriend gets his dick chopped off. She's like: 'Shoot me!' Like she goes through a whole bunch of shit but she can't live without the dick."

Forty and I go on a beer run and then pop Superfly in. Chocolate gets all excited, clapping her hands together and getting all churchy. Curtis Mayfield had Forty humming and lip-synching.

"Yo! Is that James Baldwin?"

It's the opening credits and two junkies are making plans to rob Priest of his drug money.


"Rewind that. That dude looks just like James Baldwin."

We've had enough to drink to give the possibility that James Baldwin had a heretofore undiscovered cameo in Superfly gets a good deal of discussion. This goes on until all of a sudden Priest is in bed with one of his white women.

"She's just a trick." says Forty. "Priest loves his black woman."

"How so?" I ask.

"He's just using those white women. Not like Shaft who was into that whole Greenwich Village bohemia thing."

"Shaft had a white woman?" asks Chocolate.

"That's ALL he had. That's what always trips me out about it. Shaft has this natural but sleeps with white woman in Greenwich Village, and Priest has this crazy perm [VV editor's note: actually, that was Ron O'Neal's unprocessed hair] but loves his black woman."

As if by divine intervention we find ourselves a the scene where someone yells at Priest, "Look at me, you white lookin'--!"

"Priest is the tragic mulatto," says Forty with mock sadness. "But, damn: he's sure got all the dark-skinned brothers out working for him."

"Chocolate: "And sleeping with all the white women for tricks."

Superfly slides by in fits and spurts, even though we think we're watching it very closely. I ask Chocolate and Forty if they noticed any weird slippage effect.

"It's like there's a hidden movie inside," says Chocolate. "Like that long part with all the photographs in the middle about cutting and selling the coke. I've seen this before but I was really surprised by that, like we were watching the director's cut or something."

Forty agrees. I ask him if he was stoned the last time he saw Superfly, "Yeah?" Forty says.

"Well, about now your first buzz would be wearing off," I explain, "and you'd be getting sleepy, so unless you fire up another joint you aren't really concentrating, whereas you were smoked out for the beginning, so it's all vivid."

"Yeah," says Chocolate. "I thought it was just because the ending was kind of anticlimactic, like the third act wasn't written properly."

"That means you fucked up, Bro," says Forty. "How are you gonna set something up like this and not have any weed? It's like, unscientific."

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:28 AM | Permalink

July 28, 2006

they came before the matrix

we are black revolutionaries

This article originally appeared on Africana.com on May 15, 2003

They Came Before the Matrix: Black People and Science Fiction

The Matrix is hardly the first big screen franchise to go black to the future. In no particular order, here are ten key moments and storylines from the big screen history of black people and science fiction.

They Came Before the Matrix: Black People and Science Fiction
By Gary Dauphin

Among the many mysteries of the Matrix is the unexpected yen writer-director siblings Larry and Andy Wachowski have for putting color into science fiction's usually all-white, big-screen frame. The original Matrix was a tantalizingly multicultural affair, from Laurence Fishburne's laconic Morpheus, to Gloria Foster's wryly luminous Oracle, to the eternal question of Keanu's non-descript racial cipher, while the overarching themes at the core of the franchise -- maroonage and slave rebellion -- can't help but speak suggestively to black sci-fi heads. (It'll be a thousand years or more before an American artist can make work about "slaves" without automatically evoking some portion of black life and history.)

That afrofuturistic parade continues in The Matrix Reloaded with the addition to the cast of Jada Pinkett-Smith, Harold Perrineau, Jr, and, of all people, academic (and occasional MC) Cornel West. The Matrix, though, is hardly the first big screen franchise to go black to the future. In no particular order, here are ten key moments and storylines from the big screen history of black people and science fiction:

1. Black Magic in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
It's no coincidence that some of the earliest mixings of blackness and science fiction took place on movie visits to fictionalized versions of the first black republic, Haiti. Long an object of white fascination and vilification, Haiti's folk religion voudoun was alternately represented as a primitive superstition and as an arcane, crypto-Masonic secret society in dozens of B, C and D-movies from the pre-straight-to-video golden ages of Hollywood exploitation. Flicks like Drums O' Voodoo (1934) titillated and terrorized white audiences with visions of white women under the mind control of black "witch doctors," some of the spells apparently so powerful they required breaking by none other than the extraterrestrial Superman, who made visits to the island in both big screen serials and on TV episodes like Superman #18: Drums of Death (1957). In the movie fictionalization of Harvard ethno-botanist Wade Davis' book The Serpent and The Rainbow, horror director Wes Craven squared the circle of science and mysticism by imagining a pharmacological nightmareland where both the "divine horsemen" (as the gods of Haiti are known) and the Duvalier regime were the products of scary native drugs and freaky native bio-chemistry, thereby giving Haitian religion the "magic mushroom" treatment that the Amazon's indigenous people get in the fantasies of the National Geographic set.

ape shall not kill ape.jpg
2. Fear of a Black Planet
The entire Planet of the Apes cycle took racist anxieties about African nationalism, civil rights and Black Power and did what science fiction does best -- recast the unconscious fears of audiences in forms that were similar enough to the real deal to get a rise, while different enough to pass without a ripple into the popular culture. The Apes series benefited from the placement of the then-liberal Charlton Heston in the opening installment and from there ran roughshod through the political anxieties of white Americans until Conquest of the Planet of the Apes made it plain by depicting a political revolution of ape slaves aided and abetted by, you guessed it, a black man.

darth motherfucking vader3. Fear of the Black Hat: All too often, the only African American face in a science fiction will belong to the villain. George Lucas' black armor-clad Darth Vader was evil incarnate while voiced by African American actor James Earl Jones, his transition away from the Dark Side of the Force (right) signaled by his transformation into a kindly white Brit. In flicks like Total Recall betrayal wore a black mutant face, while in Terminator 2 the end of the world was caused by an over-eager black scientist mucking about with mysterious technology. (Let that be a lesson to every black engineer!)

4. Back in The DayWhile comedy franchises like Martin Lawrence's Black Knight used time-travel to produce easy fish-out-the-ghetto yucks, Haile Gerima's indie masterpiece Sankofa imagined a time travel scenario with a little more bite, when an African American woman finds herself back in days of slavery. The lyrical, quasi-non-linear feature had an art house feel, but re-enacted a basic science fictional question just about every modern-day black person has asked at some point or another: What would I do if I found myself living "back then?" In Brother from Another Planet an escaped alien slave made the trip not across time but space, bringing him into a black neighborhood where the locals band together to protect him.

who am is?5. The White Negro -- Literally
Black essayist and conservative George Schulyer imagined a scientific process whereby black men could be made white and vice versa in 1931's groundbreaking black sci-fi novel Black No More, a conceit that has made it into the movies dozens of times. From spoofs like the Denzel Washington vehicle Heart Condition, to political satires like Watermelon Man and Black Like Me, the transformation of black bodies into white ones and white bodies into black has created endless one-liners about black male endowment and countless opportunities to draw easy conclusions about the similarities and differences between the races. Flicks that focused on actually changing the physical structure of the body, like Black Like Me tended to be both the most lurid and the most interesting, as modifying the racial hardware always raises bigger questions about the software: What's it look like? Who wrote it? Who owns the copyright? And: When is the next version coming out?

6. Angela Bassett's Superpower

Immediately after Kirk and Uhura were forced into TV's first interracial kiss in the classic Star Trek episode "Plato's Step-Children," the verb of interracial love gained a new tense -- call it the "future-perfect-freaky" -- and no one uses it better on screen than Angela Bassett. In Supernova and, more notably, Strange Days, Bassett played black-women-of-the-future responding to what must be (by then) a heinously advanced black-man-shortage by bedding down their white male co-stars. While Bassett savaged Halle Berry in the press for her black-on-white love scene in Monster's Ball, in a temporal inversion of "statute of limitations" she was completely comfortable taking roles that not only featured miscegenation, but treated it as a kind of evolutionary advance. Her romance with Ralph Fiennes not only ends Strange Days, but marks the entire world's official entrance into the future, their kiss setting off the fireworks that announce the arrival of the new millennium.

7. What is B.O.G.? Racial Purity and the Coming Beige Apocalypse
In the sci-fi worlds of the "future-perfect-freaky," mixed race, bi-racial people stride the earth, a scarily perfect super-race purportedly mixing the best of black and white. While writers like Octavia Butler regularly re-imagine the encounter between Europe and Africa in the Americas as a regenerative genetic apocalypse where both roots are transformed by their offspring, the theme had no big screen analog until Wesley Snipes brought the brooding Daywalker named Blade to the multiplexes. The big-screen version of the comic book Blade brought the image of the tragic mulatto into the bio-molecular age, the half-vampire, half-human played by Snipes not just trapped between two warring tribes but forced to live in a battleground-body. The product of pregnant (black) human mother raped by a (white) vampire father, Blade faced an identity crisis that also gave the "one drop rule" a creepy age-of-AIDS spin, turning vampire creation into a question of post-coital viral infection. Unlike Butler's vision of a transcendent middle race, which in books like the Xenogenesis trilogy and Clay's Ark takes giddy satisfaction in the survival of the fitter, new-fangled hybrids, the less radical Blade only wants to maintain the status quo, defending the humans in the first picture, and then discovering the nobility of his pure-blooded vampire antagonists in the second, as embodied by fangy-hottie Leonor Varela.

8. Esoterics in the Land of Cotton
Although not always understood as visions of science fiction, there are always strange doings afoot whenever the moist lands south of the Mason-Dixon line are depicted on screen. From Eve's Bayou to Beloved, the American South has always been a big screen haunted house where the sins of the white racist fathers swap spit with Hollywood fantasies of black spiritual resistance, aka rootwork and hoodoo. Black spiritual technologies -- charms, dream books, candles, mojos -- have been so severed from their original contexts by LaLaLand that they could seamlessly provide a tagline for a franchise like Austin Powers, while in the work of Stephen King, most notably The Shining and the The Stand, wise southern black folk warm King's chilly New England nightmares by acting as walking repositories for strange, unexplained energies. Although much, much richer, even the late Gloria Foster's Oracle in the Matrix movies is a play on the image of the aged Negro as spiritual antenna, a trope as old as Harriet Beecher Stowe's god-fearing Uncle Tom beatifically soaking up the good Lord's shine.

9. Substance D: Imaginary Drugs for Imaginary Ghettoes
In 1977, Philip K. Dick imagined a "Substance D" in A Scanner Darkly a drug so powerful it split the novel's undercover narc protagonist into two personalities, one belonging to the cop, the other to his prey. Dick and his readers didn't have to wait long for the lab-cooked super-drugs of the future; a scant half decade after A Scanner Darkly was published, America was in the grip of a crack epidemic. Ghetto real thrillers like Deep Cover, Ricochet and Belly might not seem like science fiction, but their storylines all revolve around black folks hard at work on the high tech creation of heretofore unknown new narcotics, next generation cracks and methamphetamines. Deep Cover imagines a black and white team looking to create an ecstasy-like pill with no side effects, while in Belly DMX learns (from MTV News of course) of a perfected heroin. In Ricochet Ice-T isn't just Denzel's bad seed pal from back in the day, he's a high tech entrepreneur whose inner-city lab is a futuristic playground straight out of Tom Clancy, the street obviously finding new uses for technology long before the newest-latest reaches the suburbs.

I am not made of normal flesh10. Michael Jackson
What's there to say about MJ that hasn't been said? The "Thriller" video and the "Black or White" video (not to mention their associated games) are epic parts of the black science fictional canon, Michael's racial anxieties turning to the power of special effects to allow him to transform his black body in ways far more radical than the puny tools of plastic surgery allow. Few remember, though, that Michael also created a full-length feature called Moonwalker where the King of Pop enacted a slew of Afro-futuristic fantasies, culminating with his climactic transformation not into a white man, but a 400 foot tall Transformer.

About the Author: Gary Dauphin is Editor in Chief of Africana.

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:07 PM | Permalink

July 19, 2006

the lost episodes of dave chappelle

bomani thinks Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings are sellouts.

I dunno if I'd go so far as to say dudes were sellouts. I watched the so-called "Lost Episodes" of the Chappelle Show and mostly felt sad. It's an ugly end to a great era in television. As far as the conduct of the folks who remained behind after Dave jetted, I don't really see much reason to indict them. Charlie and Donnell just worked there, it's not like they were all some big happy comedy family or something. I think the feeling of disappointment with dudes (on my end, at least) had to do with how their being the hosts of those bullshit "lost episodes" punctured a fantasy I'd created of the Chappelle Show as some kind of black media utopia where a bunch of incredibly talented folks came together to do some amazing work (and get paid boocoup $$ for it to boot.) Every time I saw one of the really great episodes I'd mumble to myself that THAT was where I needed to be working, that THOSE were dudes I wanted to spend 10 hours a day with chasing deadlines. Turns out it was a bullshit office full of the standard mix of idealists, hacks, cynics and check-cashers, a run-of-the mill workplace just like any other locale.

I will say that the sketches in the Lost Episodes did have powerful forensic appeal for me, adding up as they did to a map of Dave's creative crack-up. Every single sketch (including the pixie sketch)was about the problem of being post-50MM dollar Dave. The actual pixie sketch didn't strike me as worth quitting over. It was, in the end, just not too funny the way a lot of things are kinda unfunny. I think Dave was just too tired to fix the thing by that point so he just recoiled from the whole, increasingly disgusting scene. From what I understand of his process he rewrote and reshot and reedited things until struck him and his team as right. The pixie sketch seems like something he would have been able to punch into shape first season, but by the time it was shot he had run out of steam, not to mention out of trust that his co-workers shared his vision. It really does happen every day of the week, just not on TV for all to see.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:47 AM | Permalink

July 18, 2006

my favorite movie ending ever - November 17, 1998

This item appeared in the Village Voice on November 17, 1998

Movie endings are always sad for me, a forced reintroduction to the outside even when they work and please as ''film.'' I like movies that end with the promise of a worthwhile sequel or films whose momentum ends in a kind of stasis; think Tarkovsky's Solaris. The movie ending that comes clearest to mind just now doesn't technically exist, being the end of an unfinished, advance print of Blade. The cgi-jocks weren't done with the effects, so the film ended with Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff taking their final, climactic/conflict poses just before the words ''To Be Continued'' slammed onto the screen. I liked how they actually ended Blade, but I keep coming back to that other moment, the way it suggested a movie that never stopped, a movie perfect in its incompleteness and therefore never able to disappoint.

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:56 PM | Permalink

The Faculty (review) - January 5, 1999

This review appeared in the Village Voice on January 5, 1999.

In the latest Kevin Williamson script to hit theaters (this time directed by Robert Rodriguez), the old small-town alien-invasion gambit gets the Scream treatment, with a little teen alienation (alien nation, get it?) thrown in for good measure.

January 5, 1999

The Faculty
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

In the latest Kevin Williamson script to hit theaters (this time directed by Robert Rodriguez), the old small-town alien-invasion gambit gets the Scream treatment, with a little teen alienation (alien nation, get it?) thrown in for good measure. Reassuringly derivative of everything from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to The Puppetmasters to The Stepford Wives (even Men in Black gets both a dialogue name check and a plot-point nod), The Faculty riffs on the ''parents and teachers just don't understand'' thing as a question of species, introducing us to a demographic cross section of Anywhere High School, America, infecting their authority figures with extraterrestrial earwigs and asking the kids to, like, save the world.

On the side of individualized humanity and good, there's the Cheerleader (Jordana Brewster), the Jock (Shawn Hatosy), the Nerd (Elijah Wood), and the cig-smoking Cool Guy (Josh Hartnett). Arrayed against them is the efficiently evil gang from the teacher's lounge, led by the diabolical alien infected Bitch Principal (Bebe Neurwirth) and Football Coach (Robert Patrick). Since the codes of science fiction are different from horror's cant, the patented Williamson method doesn't make a perfect fit with the material; Faculty's fun, but less fun than it could be. Williamson and Rodriguez don't ruminate on impaled, violent death (i.e., sex) with much gusto, choosing instead to go a half-baked ideological route: the alien's perfectly regimented communal order squares off against what one kid identifies most succinctly as the freedom to ''be a D student.'' Although The Faculty provides effective action set pieces, quite a few scary sneak-up scenes, and some good wiser-than-their-years repartee, it's only subversive touch is its hep-cat attitude toward drugs: the test to determine if someone's been taken over by aliens involving snorting home-brewed (albeit caffeine-based) speed. In the end, Faculty offers none of the unsettling half-closures or frame-shattering outburst of FX and violence that mark the best of its chosen genre, but there is something cool about a mainstream, teenmultiplex outing that identifies chemically altering consciousness as a fundamental part of being human.--

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:43 PM | Permalink

I Got the Hook Up (review) - June 09, 1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice on June 09, 1998

Multimillionaire rapper Master P's second film, I Got the Hook-Up, is a typical sophomore letdown that keeps it real only in traditional, bad-meaning-bad ways: real dumb, real stupid, really badly made.

June 09, 1998

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Directed by Michael Martin

Multimillionaire rapper Master P's second film, I Got the Hook-Up, is a typical sophomore letdown that keeps it real only in traditional, bad-meaning-bad ways: real dumb, real stupid, really badly made. Unlike his single-minded debut, the straight-to-video revenge fantasy I'm 'Bout It, I Got the Hook-Up is a disjointed comedy about two street-corner hustlers (bigman P and A.J. Johnson as his gruff, Chihuahua-like sidekick) who luck into a batch of cell phones. Running afoul of the mob and the feds, the pair skitter from half-baked gangsterism to aimless rounds of the dozens to pointless mack set pieces. Having managed to will two feature films into existence, P apparently didn't have time to spare on things like character or story. Few shots are fired, and the fantasy ghetto P creates is full of wild Jerry Springer--meets--William Gibson flourishes (the transvestite prostitutes and hot-sex skeezers give head and hack databases with equal skill), but I Got the Hook-Up is really no more than another interesting footnote in the ongoing story of how people can get rich selling the same old shit.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:35 PM | Permalink

on the suckitude of commercial black film - July 07, 1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice on July 07, 1998.

The first clue that you've entered the land of the black formula picture is usually the title. Booty Call, How To Be a Player, I Got the Hook-Up, Phat Beach, and BAPS don't have the punch of Black Godfather, Hell Up in Harlem, or Foxy Brown, but they serve a similar function, signifying that the pictures will feature young black folks and urban spaces, will crack a lot of dirty jokes, and will be accompanied by the so-called slammin' r&b and hip-hop soundtrack. Those pieces of the marketing puzzle are so well laid out that companies like Miramax and New Line have taken to turning out black-oriented comedies with an ease that would make the masters at American International Pictures proud.

July 07, 1998



The first clue that you've entered the land of the black formula picture is usually the title. Booty Call, How To Be a Player, I Got the Hook-Up, Phat Beach, and BAPS don't have the punch of Black Godfather, Hell Up in Harlem, or Foxy Brown, but they serve a similar function, signifying that the pictures will feature young black folks and urban spaces, will crack a lot of dirty jokes, and will be accompanied by the so-called slammin' r&b and hip-hop soundtrack. Those pieces of the marketing puzzle are so well laid out that companies like Miramax and New Line have taken to turning out black-oriented comedies with an ease that would make the masters at American International Pictures proud.

The other given about the new type of picture being directed at black audiences (call them post-gangster romances, or maybe bupploitation) though, is that they almost invariably stink. (The exceptions include gems like F. Gary Gray's Friday and Set It Off.) From the dizzying technical ineptitude of a cartoonish ghetto farce like I Got the Hook-Up to the bizarre, almost willful lack of humor of the Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle Woo, to the aggressively crass and genuinely mean-spirited sexual politics of How To Be a Player and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, these are films with next to nothing to redeem them except the feeling that some black person somewhere got a check, a movieland analog to the ''It's still legal'' defense offered by tobacco lobbyists. Produced cheaply enough that even modest box-office and video afterlife add up to a profit, these pictures make sense for the studios the way teen-sex flicks or low-budget horror films do. But in an industry still slow to support black filmmaking that can't be summed up in a catchy title, BAPs and '90s players sometimes seem to be the only game in town, much the way pimps, ho's, and dealers out to make their last big score ruled certain screens in the '70s.

The bulk of these pictures have been urban romantic comedies, the slapsticky, R-rated sexual misadventures of a new black leisure class. Detailing the trials of folk in love and lust was once a slightly serious or at least glamorous endeavor--from Mahogany to She's Gotta Have It--but today's view of fast and cheap black romance owes more to Porky's with a little of The Mack tossed in for street cred. The unholy love child of male-centered early-'90s gangster flicks and the ''ain't got/can't get a man'' keen of the post--Waiting To Exhale moment, the new bupploitation offers images of a well-earned but contextless middle class.

The central narrative question isn't how black people make a living but what they do with their cell-phone-equipped free time. Progress of a sort, except that players here aren't anywhere near the realistic representatives of the not-so-new black middle class you'll find in films like Love Jones, Hav Plenty, or even more-conventional genre winners like Soul Food. Instead, you find dick-and money-hungry skeezers and obsessive-compulsive cocksmen whose sexual appetites and prowess would put Dolemite to shame, only without the deep-frying grease of the '70s' unique cultural moment. Women get fucked in all the expected ways. We had the aging nutcase whose sanity is being drowned out by the loud ticking of her biological clock in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, and virgin/whore dichotomies aplenty in Booty Call, where the limp leading good girl is never complete without the superfreaky best friend. And since every pimp needs his ho's, there are the endless, tightly skirted extras that round out every party or club scene: Stripper #2, Gold Digger #5, Freak #6.

Black men of course are the oily superdicks they've always been, but if the new black formula picture offers a new spin to the likes of Superfly's Priest, it's in the appearance of the awkward, big-eyed, but gainfully employed nerd, the sort out of which Tommy Davidson seems to be making a career. These men aren't drug dealers or pimps, but they're another kind of assault, tarred with the same sticky yuk brush that once mired black actors in bumbling stereotypes from Amos and Andy to Steppin' Fetchit.

In the books of the white-owned and -run companies that develop and/or distribute these pictures, the numbers tell a curious story. Since white audiences tend not to cross over and buy tickets to black films, $20-30 million is the most that film executives expect from these comedies. That number suggests to Hollywood that spending the time and money to do a black picture right, the way, for example, even the most ridiculously familiar $60 million action flick is handled, just doesn't make financial sense. Unfortunately, the new $1-$2 million blaxploitation flicks have reinforced that logic. Except for wholesale failures like Phat Beach or BAPS, pictures like Thin Line ($34 million cumulative box office for New Line), Booty Call ($23 million for Sony), and Hook-Up ($10 million and climbing for Miramax's Dimension Films) exist in a double comfort zone for white-run studios and distributors, offering steady, dual-stream box-office and soundtrack returns on little financial or creative risk.

Paul Hall, producer of John Singleton's Higher Learning and the upcoming Frankie Lymon biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, sees these films as just the tale of the box-office tape. ''Hollywood's a business,'' he says, ''and studios are making certain types of movies for young, urban audiences the way they make action films for a particular demographic.'' Hall isn't interested in remaking any pimp movies, but he doesn't think that we're entering a new '70s-style era. ''I don't agree with labeling films 'exploitation' or 'blaxploitation' just because the audience is young and black. The people who are making these films are part of the industry in ways that African Americans working during the '70s weren't."

Bridget D. Davis, who oversees the development and acquisition of films at Babyface's Edmonds Entertainment (producers of Soul Food and Hav Plenty), also sees the current trend toward low-budget comedies in a business context. ''We've been very careful in choosing what we put out there. But there isn't a conspiracy. This industry is in constant flux, and what works today will not work tomorrow.''

Even a legendary polemicist like Spike Lee says he's ''not against black people making a living,'' so the question boils down to the more abstract problem of values, how people work and how that work reflects their ideas about how the world is and how it could be. For Christopher Cherot, whose Hav Plenty mines its humor from the contradictions of black success and prosperity, values are the key to making good black movies. ''I just want to tell stories,'' says Cherot, ''but a lot of people are dishonest about why they want to be in this business. I know plenty of guys who either want to make films so they can hang out with Halle Berry or who want to make films to save the race. You're going to make bad movies if you worry too much about either.''

Quality aside, everyone knows which way the numbers are pointing, especially filmmakers trying to make that first film. Says Kay Shaw, an African American producer and distributor who's worked on indies like Daughters of the Dust and The Keeper, ''Things remind me of the period soon after Boyz in the Hood, when younger filmmakers were bringing me gang picture after gang picture. Now they all want to do romantic comedies, Booty this and Player that. The younger filmmakers often think, 'If I can just get my foot in the door, I'll be able to make the kind of films I really care about later.' The problem is that there very often isn't a later.''

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:31 PM | Permalink

He Got Game Plan - an interview with Spike, May 5, 1998

This interview with Spike Lee appeared in the Village Voice on May 5, 1998.

Spike Lee doesn't want to tell people what to think about race and the movies, but that doesn't mean he's without opinions. ''I don't want to sound like Amiri Baraka or something,'' he says, ''like I'm the gatekeeper of black cinema, but c'mon. A lot of these films that are coming out are just bullshit. Bulllll-shit.''

May 05, 1998


BYLINE: Gary Dauphin

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Spike Lee doesn't want to tell people what to think about race and the movies, but that doesn't mean he's without opinions. ''I don't want to sound like Amiri Baraka or something,'' he says, ''like I'm the gatekeeper of black cinema, but c'mon. A lot of these films that are coming out are just bullshit. Bulllll-shit.''

It's a true enough assessment, and one that probably pains Lee more than he lets on. With his 1986 debut, She's Gotta Have It, Lee helped inspire and solidify a number of trends that are still doing good box office--mental and otherwise--12 years later: a commercially viable independent cinema, an aggressive rhetoric of black filmmaking as political or public good, a guerrilla-warfare take on indie movies where any unknown with a few dollars and a dream can envision leaping into the national consciousness, and an artist-as-brand-name philosophy where black filmmakers want to scale not only the heights of their own profession but also the worlds of ready-to-wear, record production, and advertising. That's a hefty list of ''created''s and ''inspired''s, but despite breaking all that ground Lee sees a messy, woefully incomplete construction site, the list of black films since 1986 including a few good entries but many, many more that are deeply flawed.

''Booty Call. How To Be a Player. I like Ice Cube, but I didn't like Players Club. Ride. B.A.P's--I mean, did you see B.A.P's? I don't understand how some of these films get green-lighted. It's just not a good thing when you look at someone's resume and you see one of those films on the first line. You can be as talented as you want, but if you compromise in the beginning, you'll still have a hard time getting any other films made.''

Lee says he still faces a fight getting his own films made, but he's managed to finish two in the last year, the Oscar-nominated documentary Four Little Girls and his upcoming 12th feature, the Denzel Washington basketball drama He Got Game. And that's just the filmography, as Lee never forgets to cite being a husband and father, running an ad agency (SpikeDDB), teaching directing at New York University's graduate film school, and, of course, ''getting the Knicks in.''

He Got Game is the long-awaited Spike Lee Sports Film. ''I didn't plan it like this,'' he says. ''I always thought my first sports film would be the Jackie Robinson story, but we're still looking for the funding on that. After Get on the Bus, my wife, Tanya, told me, 'You should write another original screenplay,' that she'd been missing my voice. My first thought to myself was 'And what do you know?' But after some reflection, I realized she was right. Once again. Jungle Fever had been my last original screenplay, and that had been six, seven years ago. So I started writing, and basketball was the first thing that came to mind.''

Lee didn't want ''Sportscenter addicts'' to be the only people to see the film, and he didn't want to do ''that hokum Hoosiers, Rocky kind of sports movie. No underdogs, no team from the sticks. No glorious return to the days when teams were teams and there was no such thing as the fast break, when we didn't have all this fancy nigger shit with behind-the-back passes and jams, when basketball was 'pure.' I also didn't want to do one of those fake schoolyard films. No stunt doubles, trick photography, or lowered baskets like they did for Above the Rim. It's like a karate movie the way they have bodies moving through the air, like they're on wires and trampolines.''

Directing the picture was akin to coaching basketball. ''I didn't want to be like a lot of these coaches in the league that are just like, plod plod plod. So some court sequences were choreographed, but mostly we gave the players the leeway to create and improvise. That's the way I've always directed my films. You have directors out here where an actor can't change one single word. That's one way of directing, which is fine. You have your coaches like Pat Riley, and you have your Phil Jacksons. I want input from actors and I don't treat them like robots. Some of the best moments in Game came completely from Denzel.''

Craft is clearly important to Lee, which is why, try as he might, he can't stay away from Amiri Baraka--sounding comments once he's been asked to talk about other people's films. ''I'm happy people are getting work and opportunities,'' Lee says. ''But I'm not happy with most of these films. You have to raise the bar eventually, at least try to. You can't pitch or green-light a film on the possibility of selling a hip hop sound track. You have places like New Line and Miramax that are cornering the market on certain segments of the black audience, companies with no black people in the top executive ranks.''

He knows black folks aren't rejecting these movies. ''That's the sad thing. The black audience is going for the bullshit. You'll have a stampede for Booty Call, and no one'll go see Rosewood. And black people'll be the first ones kicking and screaming about b.s. black movies. You can't just keep blaming Anglo-Saxons, though,'' he says, ''because there's also a whole Matty Rich syndrome where filmmakers are like, 'I'm real, I didn't go to film school, this is the first time I've ever picked up a camera.' I don't understand how you can tout your ignorance as a badge of courage.''

When offered bell hooks's line, ''White people worship at the altar of black mediocrity,'' Lee laughs. ''My biggest fan. But it's true. A lot of times when white people are in a position of power and there are two black people, a competent person and an incompetent person, the incompetent one will get the job. That's how they view us as a people. Incompetent. But where's Matty Rich now? Where are those lack of skills that he was championing? They're busy not getting him any more work. Black people, kids especially, almost seem to fail on purpose because they want to be real, because they don't want to be ridiculed as acting white. Now that's seeping into the arts.''

Lee's version of keeping it real means having feet planted in both independent filmmaking and Hollywood. ''I maintain complete creative control of my films, but I use Hollywood for their money and distribution. So I have complete control to make a film, but it's not like I can do anything I want. I can do anything I want under certain budgetary constraints. Which is fine. It teaches you to find new ways of solving problems. I'm just not getting $50 million.''

Asked to look ahead, Lee says he doesn't know what he's working on next, but ''whatever it is, we start shooting in July.'' Other projects are floating in his head: a musical (''Don't have a story yet, but it'll be all singing and dancing''), as well as a redoubled effort to get The Jackie Robinson Story made. He also wants to break into television, ''but that's a tough nut to crack. Forget how we are in the movies, look at those sitcoms on the U Peoples Network and We Brothers.'' Asked to look back, he declares himself a man with no regrets, but after a pause he reaches all the way to the beginning for one thing he wishes he could do over.

''I would take the rape scene out of She's Gotta Have It.''

Asked why, Lee responds, ''Rape is obviously a very violent act, and I just wish I hadn't put the scene in. It brought a lot of things into the picture that didn't belong there, and it just wasn't necessary. It was my ignorance at the time that put it there.'' Lee bristles just a little when he's asked if he's reevaluated it because of long-standing criticisms. ''No, nobody TOLD me. I'm 41 now. I was 24 when I wrote that script. It just didn't belong in the movie. You grow and you learn.''

All of which goes to show why, if black film is going to have a gatekeeper, it might as well be Spike Lee: When was the last time you heard Amiri Baraka, or any other self-appointed defender and definer of anything black or white, admit they made a mistake?

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Woo (review) - May 19, 1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice on May 19, 1998.

The unlikely couple brought together in Woo are on a blind date, but that doesn't mean audiences haven't been here before. This Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle written by David C. Johnson is a retread of Booty Call, and anyone who liked that previous outing will appreciate this new night of horrors.

Directed by Daisy V. S. Mayer

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

The unlikely couple brought together in Woo are on a blind date, but that doesn't mean audiences haven't been here before. This Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle written by David C. Johnson is a retread of Booty Call, and anyone who liked that previous outing will appreciate this new night of horrors. Woo is the unexplained moniker of Pinkett Smith's character, a borderline psychotic who's set up with nerdy paralegal Tim (Tommy Davidson, doing 90 minutes of reaction shots). Intended, I imagine, to scan as a hyperactive handful who needs aggressive male keeping-up-with, Woo is really just annoying, a walking compilation of neck rolls who veers wildly from glossy r&b bitch to black valley girl to club kid--cum-- drag queen. Woo takes Tim on the town and watches blithely as he suffers a range of indignities, the couple drifting through stylized black New York subcult spaces until they can appreciate each other's quirks. There are a few decent gags (the lowest yet most intriguing involves something called a ''Chicken 'Ho''), but overall Woo is the usual bottom-feeding crud aimed at black audiences.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:19 PM | Permalink

Black Beatty (on Bullworth) - 5.26.1998

This article appeared in the Village Voice in 1998.

Cruising the Negro streets for some kind of fix, some kind of juice, energy, or spark with which to reanimate moribund arts and politics has a long history, one that's managed to produce some interesting things despite the distorting effects of white America's ongoing quest for darktown excitements and sexual chiaroscuro.

May 26, 1998

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Cruising the Negro streets for some kind of fix, some kind of juice, energy, or spark with which to reanimate moribund arts and politics has a long history, one that's managed to produce some interesting things despite the distorting effects of white America's ongoing quest for darktown excitements and sexual chiaroscuro. There may be something chillingly mercenary about white folks who use the black inner city as the backdrop for their perennial passion plays of outlawry, idealism, and transgression, but that doesn't mean there aren't definite sparks and energies to be had up in that particular ghetto motherfucker nonetheless--this no matter how many white folks get off in weird, sometimes embarrassing ways while in the pursuit of their fantasies of getting funky with the other. And anyway, at this late date, slumming is a national pastime on which white people have no monopoly. The sort of ecstatic niggerization that's landed Warren Beatty and Bulworth kudos from here to The New Yorker is the stock-in-trade of legions of black folks too, professional others who invoke the ghetto and its narrow band of realness for authentication and moral authority every single day of their lives.

No, if there's anything off about Bulworth it's not so much Beatty's belief in the old liberal verities or the sorbetlike, palate-clearing powers of black people, but the little details that are supposed to give that belief life. There is something admittedly odd and curious about an old-school Hollywood idol rapping and gamboling with the tuneful lovelies of Compton, California, but the odd and curious thing is how fundamentally ludicrous a spectacle Beatty's created, a kind of sideshow that speaks as much truth to the ridiculous as it does to power. Beatty's film is chock-full of extended and admittedly commercially risky tough talk, but by choosing to package its sermons in satirical, surreal images of the star rapping badly about insurance companies or grinding against Halle Berry like some wild, supernaturally animated noodle, Bulworth inadvertently chokes the life out of the very people it wants to speak for, reducing the particular textures and colors of inner-city life, style, and especially art to the broad strokes of an abstracted political truth about disparities between rich and poor. That truth is important and raceless to a certain extent, but there comes a point when, if an aging white guy really and truly wants to be anyone's nigger, he has to display what the kids like to call skills, abilities that J.Billington Bulworth sorely lacks by satirical design. Folks might want to hold the truth-and-content side as distinct from the skills side, but in a country where white boys from coast to coast can do quite passable imitations of black boys, why settle for Warren Beatty's unless you believe black people are just plain funny?

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:13 PM | Permalink

Black Box Office: Weekend of February 21st, 2003

This article appeared on Africana.com on February 21, 2003

Crimson clad Daredevil made out like a bandit last weekend, with a $45 million gross -- almost doubling the take home of previous Presidents' Day weekend record holder John Q ($23.6 million). Lets see if audiences prove to be as blind as the films titular vigilante superhero by supporting this boring tripe in subsequent weeks.

Black Box Office: Weekend of February 21st, 2003

Compiled by Africana.com Staff

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

Crimson clad Daredevil made out like a bandit last weekend, with a $45 million gross -- almost doubling the take home of previous Presidents' Day weekend record holder John Q ($23.6 million). Lets see if audiences prove to be as blind as the films titular vigilante superhero by supporting this boring tripe in subsequent weeks. Bumped down to number two, Chicago continues to reel them in at $14.5, million while Kangaroo Jack maintains its top three spot with $5 million, in flagrant defiance of our consistent hateration.

This weekend, folks in New York and LA can look forward to Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony, an independent labor of love that follows the rise of South Africas anti-Apartheid movement through its protest songs. Also, a pair of new films parse Americas racial disharmony: Gods and Generals examines the Civil War, while Dark Blue trains a lens on crooked LA cops during the Rodney King riots of 1992.

1. Daredevil (20th Century Fox)

Black Quotient: Stars Michael Clarke Duncan
Weekend Gross: $45,033,454
Total Gross: $45,033,454
Weeks in Release: 1

2. Chicago (Miramax)

Black Quotient: Stars Taye Diggs and Queen Latifah
Weekend Gross: $14,503,231
Total Gross: $82,606,872
Weeks in Release: 8

3. Kangaroo Jack (WB)

Black Quotient: Stars Anthony Anderson
Weekend Gross: $5,035,455
Total Gross: $58,954,899
Weeks in Release: 5

4. Deliver Us From Eva (Focus Features)

Black Quotient: Written and Directed by Gary Hardwick; Stars LL Cool J, Gabrielle Union, Essence Atkins, Yuri Brown, Dartanyan Edmonds, Johnny Gill, Meagan Good, Mel Jackson, Robinne Lee, Jaszmin Lewis, Nicole Lyn, Duane Martin, Kenya Moore and Mark Swenson
Weekend Gross: $4,415,505
Total Gross: $12,281,586
Weeks in Release: 2

5. Biker Boyz (Dreamworks Pictures)

Black Quotient: Co-written and Directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood; Stars Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Tyson Beckford, Lisa Bonet, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Meagan Good, Kadeem Hardison, Djimon Hounsou, Terrence Howard, Orlando Jones, Eriq LaSalle and Larenz Tate
Weekend Gross: $2,473,937
Total Gross: $19,306,932
Weeks in Release: 3

6. National Security (Sony)

Black Quotient: Stars Martin Lawrence
Weekend Gross: $540,323
Total Gross: $35,501,244
Weeks in Release: 5

7. Rabbit-Proof Fence (Miramax)

Black Quotient: Stars Everylyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury and Ningali Lawford
Weekend Gross: $315,047
Total Gross: $4,332,013
Weeks in Release: 12

8. 25th Hour (20th Century Fox)

Black Quotient: Directed by Spike Lee; Stars Rosario Dawson
Weekend Gross: $269,143
Total Gross: $12,455,669
Weeks in Release: 9

9. Far From Heaven (Focus)

Black Quotient: Stars Dennis Haysbert
Weekend Gross: $258,434
Total Gross: $14,124,878
Weeks in Release: 15

10. Lockdown (Rainforest Films)

Black Quotient: Written by Preston A. Whitmore II; Stars Richard T. Jones, Gabriel Casseus, Deaundre Bonds, Bill Nunn, Clifton Powell, Anna Maria Horsford and Master P
Weekend Gross: $250,000
Total Gross: $250,000
Weeks in Release: 1

11. Antwone Fisher (Fox Searchlight) )

Black Quotient: Written by Antwone Fisher; Directed by Denzel Washington; Starring Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant, Salli Richardson and Novella Nelson
Weekend Gross: $247,151
Total Gross: $20,178,500
Weeks in Release: 9

12. City of God (Miramax)

Black Quotient: Stars Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen, Jonathan Haagensen, Douglas Silva and Seu Jorge
Weekend Gross: $239,368
Total Gross: $1,275,136
Weeks in Release: 5

13. Maid In Manhattan (Sony)

Black Quotient: Stars Jennifer Lopez
Weekend Gross: $181,047
Total Gross: $92,828,756
Weeks in Release: 10

14. Drumline (20th Century Fox)

Black Quotient: Directed by Charles Stone III, Written by Tina Chism, Stars Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Earl C. Poitier, Leonard Roberts and J. Anthony Brown
Weekend Gross: $118,344
Total Gross: $55,489,662
Weeks in Release: 10

15. Star Trek: Nemesis (Paramount)

Black Quotient: Stars LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn and Whoopi Goldberg
Weekend Gross: $247,151
Total Gross: $42,976,760
Weeks in Release: 10

First published: February 20, 2003

Posted by ebogjonson at 5:40 PM | Permalink

Men Swear - 8.16.00

This review of the Original Kings of Comedy originally appeared in the Village Voice in 2000.

There is a particular cut of suit favored by black men of a certain age, girth, and means--a long, three-quarter-ish jacket paired with loose-fitting slacks that provide extra room for big asses.

Men Swear
The Original Kings of Comedy
The Village Voice August 16 - 22, 2000

[ebog note: Why is EBOG reposting old articles?]

There is a particular cut of suit favored by black men of a certain age, girth, and means--a long, three-quarter-ish jacket paired with loose-fitting slacks that provide extra room for big asses. As young, small-framed, or unemployed African American men tend not to wear the Suit, it not only conveys a certain sartorial sensibility but confers a kind of survivor gravitas that middle age and prosperity bring to folks who are commonly expected to achieve neither. Everything a man wearing the Suit says is important, even when it isn't. Don't tell him he's an aging overweight clown, though, because if The Original Kings of Comedy is any indication, he'll threaten to get "ghetto-ish on your ass."

In Kings, a concert film featuring the stand-up talents of Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer (both of the WB's The Steve Harvey Show), D.L. Hughley (UPN's The Hughleys), and Bernie Mac (of countless bug-eyed supporting roles), the Suit is definitely in the house, prowling the stage while the men inside serve the standard Def Jam Comedy Hour riffs to the audience. The material hews to a familiar range of topics--"Whatever Happened to Big Mama?" "Why Kids Today So Crazy?" "My Mama Wore a Housecoat All Day," "Funny Shit White Folks Do," and of course, that great universal, "How I Ain't Got No Pussy Since I Got Married." Although this is ostensibly a Spike Lee Joint, the direction is unobtrusive and sparely functional, very unlike the Suits.

But the actual performances do feature small amounts of individuation, variations on the theme of being a pissed-off aging black man with money. Harvey wears his suit extra long and shiny, and has an older man's penchant for complex tall tales involving church and a dislike of that hip-hop foolishness. Youngblood Hughley, clad in an agitated canary yellow, delivers similarly high-energy, staccato outbursts that suggest a man with too many jokes but too little time. Cedric the Entertainer takes the greatest risk with his suit--no arms!--and has the most technically proficient onstage persona (he's the most accomplished physical comic of the bunch). As there can only be one king, the crown goes to Bernie Mac, a goggle-eyed marvel of old-school Chicago weirdness whose basic gimmick is drumming the audience into a frenzy about how it's time to bring back "beatin' our chillrun." Just about every word out of his mouth is simultaneously hilarious and reprehensible, a situation Mac understands given his admissions that he's only saying what "you think but are afraid to say." Not really, but you don't tell him that to his face unless you're wearing a bigger and shinier suit.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:24 PM | Permalink

May 23, 2006

D M Lockart was right!

The preznit really is riding in an Argo jeep! [Image from Ex Astris Scienta]

Posted by ebogjonson at 8:03 AM | Permalink

April 29, 2006

all these revolutionaries will only break your heart

I stumbled across some Battlestar Galactica-themed Boondocks fanfic this morning, which is a fine way to start any lazy Saturday. The story is much more interesting in theory/title than in execution, but strangely warming nonetheless. This particular except concerns the game of pyramid:

"I'm coming for yo' ass, Starbuck!" Riley hollered. "Tellin' me I ain't big enough to play your jacked-up fake basketball game."

"Kid, I am going to beat the living crap out of you on the court this week, if the toasters don't frak you up first," Starbuck hollered back. "Get your trash-talking ass home before curfew."

"I don't have to listen to you! You ain't my mom!" Riley said.

"I can kick your ass, though," Starbuck answered. "So you wanna play, we will play, Riley Escobar."

"You'd beat up a little kid? That ain't right, Starbuck! You hear this crazy ho? She's sayin' she's coming for my ass!" Riley protested as I sighed and started walking away. "N*gga, I'm eight!"

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:53 PM | Permalink

April 28, 2006

i am the most worstest movie audience ever

I never went to go see Phat Girlz and I never blogged about it. I mean, despite what I said on the blog (I think it was: "I am going to see Phat Girlz") the whole thing really just bored me. I just couldn't get it up to go see a movie I didn't care about beyond its possible critical/theoretical use value to my work. It's not like I thought I was going to be entertained, as the flick really did strike me as destined to disappoint, and why choose to be disappointed by a fellow black creative when I can be out being underwhelmed by white folks?

Apparently this lack of interest of mine, my "lack of support" for a film that (according to writer-director Nnegest Likké) is "in so many ways a first," makes me the worst black audience ever. I know this because Likké was just on Ed Gordon's News and Notes going on about how the black community didn't support her ground-breaking romantic comedy starring Mo'Nique.

I'll reserve comment until I see the thing, which is still holding on for dear life at the Magic Johnson Crenshaw. I will say, though, that that shit better surprise me, otherwise I'll be forced to concede that our dear sisthren-directress is thoroughly gassed on her own fumes. That's kind of sexy pre-release, but it's not a good look after numerous critical spankings and a paltry $6MM box office tally.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:47 PM | Permalink

stop the madness nancy and whitney

Uh, this, my friends, is a 1985 anti-drug video starring Nancy Reagan and whole gang of future crack-heads, most notably Whitney Houston. Anybody remember it? (via Boing Boing)

Tim Ried (among other things, creator of Frank's Place) is credited as a writer/creator for the video, and if press your warm cheek against the cool surface of the screen, you can about feel his hopeful, good-vibration belief in the power of mass media to transform the inner life of a passively consuming viewer. So innocent! So gentle!

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

random screened notes 1 & 2 (Brangelina Galactica)

1 - First there's the jealousy. Why didn't I come up with this headline?! Then the horror:

Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie To Star in 'Atlas Shrugged'

After years of delays, Ayn Rand's famous novel "Atlas Shrugged" is being made into a feature film starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, according to media reports. Lionsgate Films bought the rights to the film version of the 1957 novel, considered in many polls to be one of the most influential books in history.

According to Hollywood trade paper Variety, the Mr. And Mrs. Smith co-stars, who are both fans of the Russian novelist, would play the lead roles of Dagny Taggart and John Gault. The story revolves around the economic collapse of the United States sometime in the future and espouses Rand's philosophy of objectivism. [Hat tip Bookslut]

2 - Regarding the story clipped below, Mike V. writes "I think we are missing our historical moment."

SCI FI announces Galactica spin-off!

By the Lords of Kobol ... The SCI FI Channel has stunned fans today with the announcement of Caprica, a spin-off series from its top-rated Battlestar Galatica. SCI FI calls the potential new show "television's first science fiction family saga," centering on the history of the Adama family and the birth of the Cylons.

Set more than 50 years before the events of Battlestar Galactica, Caprica takes place on the capital world of the Twelve Colonies. There humankind thrives, living in a peaceful society with the benefits of high technology. But the development of an advanced, robotic, artificial life form is about to change everything.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

April 7, 2006

inside man

Finally went to see Inside Man last night. I have been and remain a huge fan of Spike's, so I'll just keep carrying the water Jim Hoberman once accused me of toting and say I enjoyed the movie and am also super glad Spike got his #1 weekend at the BeeOh week before last. Dude really is one of the harder working gents in Hollywood, and I've been infinitely grateful to him not just for the flicks, but for the simple, inspirational example of his longevity and independence.

All that said, though, Inside Man strikes me largely as a competently crafted entertainment notable mostly for its industrial positioning, profit arc and marketing strategy, which is to say, for the ways it is 1000% by, for and about Hollywood. This is exactly the kind of random multiplex cash run I'm sure a thousand people have told Spike that he can't make, and I can imagine him taking enormous, pungent pleasure in proving them wrong. Every artist worth their alienated salt has boasted at some point or another that they can sell out whenever they want to, but the truth is few actually can or do. With Inside Man, Spike clearly, deliberately set out to slay the dragon of the market, and now that he's succeeded I imagine his pimp-hand has been considerably strengthened. Dude is free to go back to his previous concerns or to push the outer edge of the mainstream envelop as he so desires/wishes, and if anyone says peep about anything he can rub their nose in this movie.

I have to say, though, (and I may be talking to you, dear reader) that now that the seeing is done I can't help but think back with some sadness to all the smart, thoughtful people (black & white) who urged me to take in Inside Man on the argument that it was a "real" movie. Now really, what the fuck is that supposed to mean? Folks of good conscience with gripes about the madcap profusion that mars certain S.L. Joints could conceivably talk about how Inside Man is more, say, complete than She Hate Me, but "realer?" That's just code, my friends, for "Wow! I went to a Spike Lee movie, only this time Spike didn't lay any kind of racial trip on me and spoil my date." If mass audiences are willing to enthusiastically surrender to Spike Lee Joints that aren't "about" race, that has noting to be with said Joints being "real" movies and everything to do with that other r-word. Bottom line, folks don't seem to know how to praise/appreciate something like Spike's successful end run around an audience's prejudice without inadvertently re-inscribing that prejudice in their argument.

And anyway, the truly curiouser thing about Inside Man is that there are reasonable points of view from which it can be seen to be actually and completely about race, or at least actually and completely about the ways forms of identity like race can be exploited, reshuffled, spoofed. As a film Inside Man functions much like the bank robbery it depicts, both of them being at the core big, cunningly-crafted, theatrical deceptions whose true arcs are discernable only to their directors and the (black?) men who pursue them. (You can tell a black director helmed this flick because the final reveal leaves the black detective amused and enriched, as opposed to devastated, betrayed, broken, just plain dead.) Clive Owen's heist also easily maps to Spike's Hollywood caper in that both masterminds start with a series of tactical disadvantages - i.e., the cops/mass audiences' ability to distinguish between robbers and hostages, white and black films, non-SL Joints and SL Joints - and then find ways to turn those tactical disadvantages on their heads, allowing Spike/Clive to waltz out of the multiplex/bank with everyone's loot at the time and in the manner of their choosing.

But who is the Inside Man, you ask? Well that's easy: it's everybody who sees through the con, it's Clive and Spike and Denzel and it's, well, me (fuck you very much). And maybe it's you, dear reader if you'd stop spewing that nonsense, shit verbiage about how Spike has matured, and how you're glad Spike isn't writing his own scripts anymore, and how you're glad that Spike finally understands how to get paid, and how it'd be great if black filmmakers and actors didn't have to be burdened by stories about race - and how and how and how.

The Inside Man is, as the title implies, everybody with a dick and a brain, really, which is why although this entire caper turns out to be fun and games at the expense of Nazis and racists, the person I actually feel bad for is poor Jodie Foster. Besides having the thankless job of embodying a certain, powerfully present form of political evil, Foster also gets called a cunt to her face, which to my mind is kind of like taking it in the eye on camera and then having to stay in "character" for production stills while your co-star's fast-cooling seed dribbles down your cheek and drains into the painfully upturned corners of your tightly clamped mouth. As current Hollywood hieroglyphs go, Foster has a specific and powerful mojo that can insulate a film against charges of misogyny. She brings built-in, kneejerk pop-feminist cred to any project ; she can trade thespian elbows with the best male actors; no working, gay-rumor-plagued actress can clack-clack-clack around in hot, stiletto power heels any better than Yale's own Jodie. But man. If someone out there can discern a Trojan horse "Inside Woman" angle to this movie to match the racio-industrial funny business described above, please write in with a graph, a chart, something, because I am like the white cops on this one: I just don't see it.

BTW: I'm going to be doing regular movie chit-chat in this space. Next up is motherfrickin' Phat Girls! (I think I spelled that right.) Not to telegraph a take on a movie I haven't seen or paint myself into a vaguely disreputable corner/schtick, but Phat Girls writer director Nnegest Likké does not seem to be writer-directing from experience.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

March 8, 2006

rips - gordon

Gordon Parks passes at 93.

I think between the Oscar win for Crash and the din of accolades for the impressive size and length of Tyler Perry's box office (some cynical, some credulous) Hollywood's first major black director had likely had enough of us.

Posted by ebogjonson at 7:46 PM | Permalink

March 5, 2006

oscar notes 1 & 2

1 - jada looks like a man.

2 - british people have bad teeth.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 13, 2006

dave chappelle's sloppy seconds

So how do you want your Oprah - in the bed like Dave does, paying your bills? Or as kidnap bait for fantasy wiggers, like the Boondocks did last night?

Posted by ebogjonson at 1:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King, Adult Swim, 2006

So, the day before MLK Day, 24 assassinates the first black president. Over on Adult Swim, the Boondocks envisions a great "What If?" fantasy of mine by bringing MLK back to life, only to proceed to (pretty much) flub the thing entirely.

Why flubbed? For starters, what's the news-flash in suggesting MLK would be disappointed in the state of the world and black America? I'm disappointed in the state of the world and black America and I'm just some guy. Of course MLK would come back against the war in Iraq and at extreme logger-heads with the cable TV war-entertainment complex. There's no new information or analysis in either, but by teasing those propositions out and turning them into sub-plots the show chooses cheap, easy cynicism over speculative, lucid dreaming. I mean, this is a cartoon on cable at 11pm doing a "What If?" riff. What more license does anyone involved need to go for imaginative broke than that?

Instead of lucid dreaming, last night's Boondocks settled for riffing on time-traveler agnosia. (All that rap and the giga-Ipods and the booty shaking! Oy!) The problem is that time travelers are always already shocked by future media, this even when their time machines are cardboard boxes. Remember Videodrome and the homeless shelter where hobos watch TV all day? The Boondocks moment where MLK and Huey stare aghast at BET is just a shaded, flipside echo of that imagining of TV as "the retina of the mind's eye." The untold story isn't in how the retina was detached. (That's the opening premise.) The real story is in the process of reattaching said retina, the big questions being how, through what means, to what end, does it hurt, and so on.

Or, put another way, last night's episode is a form of hero abuse. I'm all for deconstructing prevailing myths, but what's the upside in bringing MLK back only to write him as getting bullied by Bill O'Reilly? This is like imagining that Nelson Mandela got out of prison after 20 years only to wander around Johannesburg and stare melancholy through plate-glass windows of malls and McDonalds, all the while shaking his head at the deprivations of globalization. In so much as MLK comes back from the dead and interacts with O'Reilly at all, he comes back to (non-violently) destroy him, to make him obsolete, to out-point him in the ratings and so on. He comes back to end the ratings system altogether, to start his own cable company, bring back live mass rallies, whatever. These aren't science fictional, these are the questions and projects daily set before anyone engaged with media making or politics or just plain living in our particular kind of now. And sure, Cornell West's rap record was, like, lame. And Al Gore's cable station is a mite too earnest. But those dudes aren't responding the questions raised by the mass mediascape by submitting to bullying by idiots. Engaging the problem of the mass - the how, through what means, to what end, does it hurt, and so on - doesn't guarantee a positive result. (Like a good record, for example.) It does mean, though, that you were in the fight, and The Boondock's MLK was nowhere near it.

The moment in the episode in when MLK says fuck it and goes off to Canada feels right (in a self-immolated Buddhist monk kind of way), but mostly because his refusal to engage the bullshit is most immediately directed at his imprisonment in an episode of Boondocks in the first place. MLK's media implosion via n-word sets him free from the episode but only at the cost of his own existence and in the furtherance of the show's tendentious comedy-politricknal hijinks. That his exit speech somehow sparks a thoroughly pointless "revolution" is only insult to injury, as gassing all those thousands of pixellated nuccas on the White House lawn to install Oprah as POTUS is an Orwellian "victory is defeat" nightmare if there ever was one. I mean, Oprah?

So what could the episode coulda, woulda, shoulda looked like? How about an "Animal Man"-era Grant Morrison storyline? Or a Steve Erickson novel? The problem of a character's agency against the grain of his/her own imposed characterhood (up to and including war against their creator) is a staple of all those weirdo, meta "comics about comics." (Animal Man or Alan Moore's 1963, for example, or the various DC Marvel multiverse colonic series.) Imagining the return of MLK (i.e., imagining the return of "the movement") is always-already comic booky and science fictional, so why not fully deploy those genre's techniques to answer "What would MLK do?"

What does a dead hero do when he's brought back from the grave only to find himself used as a prop in another generations side argument? (In this case, the Boondock's ongoing rearguard defense of "nigga" as a kind of higher love.) What does a great speaker do when you take his words away and fill his mouth with silly and obvious things? (In this case the Coz's "Pound Cake Speech?") How does he respond when you reanimate him via the yuk-yuk straight-jacket of Murphian (as in Eddie) impersonation, as opposed to, say, an open-ended, loa-style, social-field-effect interpolation? (Imagine MLK hopping person-to-person like the devil does in Fallen. Who chases him? Who surrenders? Who catches MLK the way people catch cold?) When does this great leader resolve the question of being "this great leader?" When does he start peeling off from the narrative arc later/lesser minds have mapped out for him? When do his responses finally continue his own arc, which is to say, become completely unexpected?

Posted by ebogjonson at 9:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 15, 2006

r.i.p. david palmer

FOX giveth and FOX taketh away.

Posted by ebogjonson at 8:46 PM | Permalink

January 14, 2006

what the TIVO is into these days

Things TIVO is season-passing (season independent):

Battlestar Galactica (nu)
The Boondocks
Samurai Champloo
South Park
Fashion File
The Wire
Project Runway
Curb Your Enthusiasm
America's Next Top Model
Daily Show / Colbert report

Things the TIVO keeps recording of its own volition that I usually delete, but do occasionally watch:

X-Files reruns
Dr. 90210
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
PopJapan TV
random 2 hour blocks of videos from MTV Jams, MTV2, BET, VH1 soul

Things the TIVO has banked for me that I don't get around to watching but haven't deleted:

all of Firefly
a bunch of John Ford movies
season 2 of Angel

Active search terms and searches:

African American
anime, animation
science fiction
NY Knicks
NY Yankees
NY Jets

Old things I plan to season-pass or bank but can't until I map out a free weekend for catching up:

every single Buffy
The Shield

Posted by ebogjonson at 5:57 PM | Permalink

January 4, 2006

brokeback boondock

I've been wanting to write about The Boondocks, but, you know, alas and alack and all that. The following posting in the Afrofuturism yahoogroup (about a range of things, including the Boondocks and Richard Pryor and the loa that might be writing each or none) offered a low-sress way in.

[the Boondocks] damned-well *should* have happened back in the mid-90s when the iron was hot and he first developed his lines of reasoning and critique -- back when a public enemy record *and* a boondocks animated series would have been culturally *unstoppable.*

the boondocks (static and full-motion) is a labor of love for a specific black sociopolitical demographic, not a force for change. as such, it is "white media" so to speak. c'mon, the whole show is farmed out to low-wage korean animators like any other contemporary cartoon that isn't *proud* of low-fi visuals (12 oz. Mouse, ATHF, etc.)

I was curious as to where folks thought a show like the Boondocks might have aired 10 years ago. The great answer from the list?

I think that liquid television-era MTV would have been the best candidate for the boondocks... and it would have worked well in the blipvert format of that show -- look how peter chung finally cashed in on aeon flux almost a decade later.

The list's notion of the Boondocks as a demographic coming-out-party struck a chord, as it historicized the show the right way and also encapsulated what I like/don't like about it. What's the demo? Well, their fantasy exemplars (in my experience at least) are crotchety, middle-aged, straight dudes with vaguely Long Island associations. (The list's Public Enemy name-check was pretty apt.) These guys are post-Civil Rights, old enough to have arc'd pre and post hip hop. Party affiliations are largely "Democratic" but they're also disaffected and prone to third party ambitions. Ironic Sharpton protest voters. College educated and either southern-born and non-HBCU educated, or northern-born and HBCU educated, which is to say, their backstory includes an orthogonal passage through a membrane structuring distinct black "success" strata. Socially liberal in the way anyone who lived in the shadow of bad old 70s-80s New York City is socially liberal, socially conservative in other ways (crime & punishment, for example) for the same reason. (Homophobic just because.) Complicated, formative relationships to (not being) one of the cool kids in high school. Deep investment in the notion that black self-criticism and self-reliance have magical, anti-genocidal powers. These are products of integration who nonetheless have heavy romantic entanglements with an idealized, pre-integration "community." In afrofuturistic terms they subscribe to a Darwinian/Zizekian racial reading of the The Matrix (first movie, at least) where black superpowers not only only work in the zone of our oppression, but also require said oppression in the first place. For the Zizekian Matrixian hero (both neo and morpheus), that means all progress requires some literal skin in the game, some act of christ-like self sacrifice. That or change just weakens you, robs you of your powers, advances the common good but reduces the singular you to nostalgia. (Older, parallel comic book framesets - Krypton must be destroyed for there to be a superman; our mutations don't make us freaks but heroes, no bad heart, no motivation to build the supersuit, and so on.)

As media producers, these dudes are so skilled at a jokey, ecumenical form of racial jujitsu precisely because their best friends once upon a time really were cosmopolitan white men or white institutions, either literally in the fifth grade or professionally later. (I have seen the enemy and he is that dumb kid I used to play with.) That the Boondocks is on Adult Swim is just part of what one list poster called the Boondocks' "lethal weaponizaton" - black show on a white network. It also seems to me to extend the lifespan of a triumphal, integrationist, Kirk/Spock-slash meme that was in the air last year about Dave Chappelle and Neal Brennan. The meme goes like this: for every disaffected black genius there is one true white male bestest-pal/collaborator/network out there (ie. a Neal) in whose safe, strong arms and unwavering gaze the aforementioned black genius will find their national voice. As opposed to the classic, pre-post Civil Rights relation of cynical seduction and patronage, the Chappelle/Brennan diad exists not to provide material support but to minimize the troubling distractions that can crop up for a black genius while in the loving embrace of a black bestest-pal/network/collaborator, which is to say, in the arms of a brOther. (Is there a more fraught relationship than that between two unrelated, middle aged, high-achieving black men not interested in fucking each other? White supremacy has so evolved that "race" is increasingly expressed only while we're facing each other, while our relationships with the right white people become oases of rest and calm.)

In terms of lethal networks, one can conceive of BET loving you like a brother, but only in a School Daze sense, which is to say, after a course of physical abuse and in the service of arcane, crypto-greco-egyptian ritual. (Bob Johnson will also anally rape you, but that's another movie.) FOX only loves you the way your pre-gentrification landlord loves you - as long as the rent is on time, and if you don't ask for anything, and only to such time as you can be replaced with a richer/whiter tenant. But the fantasy of being loved and accepted (finally!) by the white boys at Adult Swim or Vertigo or Neal, well, those are what crossover dreams are made of.

The list is right that the determinant open window for when the Boondocks happened wasn't "when would this be culturally unstoppable?" Instead it was: "when would it best cro$$over?" From jump something like the Boondocks has a foundational requirement for distribution on mass, regularly scheduled networks, this even as the show presents as nominally antagonistic to the values of mainstream media in the first place. (Wheels within wheels, doublings and mass media DL, all of which can functionally extend the Dave/Neal K/S riff if one is so inclined.) That mass media love-hate circle gets squared only if the show can find a white distributor who is "open" (the way alleged ex-weedhead Neal was open?) - i.e., if its distributor has roots in debased genres like comics or cartoons, for example, or is a time traveling VC from 1995s, or is an upstart TV network in search of a competitive advantage. If you want to go back in the crate, Van Peeples had to get down with pornographers just to distribute a black movie to black people. Looking at that cast of characters, Adult Swim seems about right in its own weird way

Me, I'm curious to see what happens if the show doesn't pan out ratings wise. This isn't M*A*S*H, so its lifespan isn't going to stretch into decades. What will the white boys from Atlanta do when it stops pull enough eyeballs? Or what if the night starts demo'ing as too ethnic? Adult Swim has put itself on the line as being motivated by more than profit with all the in-you-face, attitudinous inter titles. We'll see if that voice shifts in response to shifting numbers. Maybe that trademark white-text-on-black will blame white audience members for killing the show. Or perhaps it will start hectoring us for not supporting quality, cable television, just the way nobody colored supports jazz except the Japanese.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 30, 2005

last chappelle theory post ever

For those of you still arguing about the chappelle theory - "is it true?" or "when is the movie coming out?" - I have semi-official word for you. According to my anonymous sources at various Philly-based orgs and combines there is no movie. The whole thing is just what it claimed to be - a funny web something.

My initial position was that this was a viral marketing campaign, but it turns out the only thing being marketed is the funny-ha-ha skills of the various folks associated with anti-social.com. The "reveal" about a forthcoming short film by Charlie Murphy and Neal Brennan was part of the joke and I fell for it. Not in the sense that I thought Charlie and Neal were making some kind of documentary, but in the sense that they were making a mockumentary at their ex-pal Dave's expense. I speculated that that would be something of a chump move and am now the one looking chumpy.

If there's an aspect about how I was, like, tooken that most impresses/embarrasses me, it's the way I confidently tossed out one conspiracy theory (the dark crusaders) based on its patent absurdity, only to turn around and immediately replace it with another conspiracy theory - it's "just" a viral marketing scheme. anti-social.com's schtick is an attraction/repulsion to a certain kind of credulity - "making the information super highway unsafe for idiots since 1997" - but this particular hoax found as much purchase in my cynicism as my stupids. Taken as a whole the three steps in the dance - black conspiracy website > 1st reveal that transforms conspiracy into marketing scheme > 2nd reveal that there is nothing to market (except, of course, anti-social) - seem perfectly crafted to take advantage of my peculiar brands of piety and overthinking. I'll stand by the parts of my previous posts that dealt with the funny racial murk at the edges of the whole thing, but beyond that I'll just shut up and sit still and take my e-punking like a grown man.

Posted by ebogjonson at 11:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

so right, i'm wrong (chappelle, again)

So it seems that the chappelle theory might just be shilling t-shirts, in that there's no movie coming never. As Mr. Drudge sez: developing...

Posted by ebogjonson at 9:40 AM | Permalink

December 29, 2005

me and the chappelle theory (updated)

[uh, I was wrong. read below then go read this.]

So did I mention that I was right about The Chappelle Theory being some kind of ad? Just before the holidays Neal Brennan and Charlie Murphy come out of the conspiracy closet.

But seriously. Did I mention that I was right?

Not that I want to go on and on about being right, or to make a big to-do about how wrong asswipes like this need to eat pixellated crow, if not a proverbial dick, but, like, I was right.

(I won't take credit for the reveal, but did I say I was right before the "disclaimer" or the clips appeared on the site? Okay, you're right, I did.)

In hindsight there's something curious about how bulk of the largely wrong pre-reveal responses to the Chappelle Theory clustered. Setting aside the near univeral praise for the thing's humor, the vast majority of the deeper takes settled around two poles: earnest "could it be true?" speculation and dismissive "it's just a joke" eye-rolling. Both of those reactions seem defensive to me, and in my minds eye each has a coloring - "is it true?" being a black question, while "lighten up" is well, mighty light. (Both responses definitely share a gender, in that this felt from beginning to end like a lot of boys playing with meme toys.)

I say the reactions feel "defensive" because both camps seemed to have put their backs up against solid walls that they believe loom behind the fake conspiracy's false front - the defense of jokes for jokes sake for the eye-rollers (what the head shrinking types might call "pleasure"), or black-on-black generational conflict for the questioners. My (right!) bit about all this existing in the service of marketing was a third wall.

The commerce thing becomes increasingly of interest to me. I haven't seen the short yet, so standard disclaimers apply, but why does a short film by two of Chappelle's jilted collaborators need a viral marketing campaign? If I made a fake conspiracy movie about my last gig ("The AOL Black Voices Theory"?) I would just make it, you know. To make it and then create "buzz" for it via viral marketing and an ad agency suggests a rather cynical attempt to cash in on Dave's decision to jet while they still can.

All of this just goes to show, though, that a year into the dark times and people care about what happened to Dave. I heard somewhere he spent most of 2005 playing World of Warcraft. I'd think about him everytime I considered signing a month or two away by getting the game. I pictured meeting him in a cave somewhere and chopping things to bits and asking: why did you go, Dave? Where? What the fuck happened?

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 20, 2005

UPDATED: the chappelle conspiracy

Forget the NSA. The sweet, sweet scent of conspiracy is everywhere. (Hat tip, Kem Poston.)

This account of Dave Chappelle's fall from grace has been pieced together by me, a retired public relations executive who wishes to remain anonymous. my contacts, many of whom were closely related to the individuals involved, enabled me to fairly accurately recount the events that took place. You can take this for what you wish, but it is the truth -- the abhorrent byproduct of the industry I used to hold to such a high esteem.

[...]Dave was haunted by a secret. One that only he was aware of, and one he couldn't share with anyone, lest his comedy empire crumble.

He knew that at the same time he was signing his record-setting deal, there was a secret cabal of powerful African-American leaders from the business, political, and entertainment industries working together to ensure that the third season of Chappelle's Show would never happen.

And who is this cabal, you ask? Household names, all:

Al Sharpton
Jesse Jackson
Louis Farrakhan
Bill Cosby
Whoopie Goldberg
Oprah Winfrey
Robert L. Johnson

the dark crusaders

Read and be very, very afraid for the future of black creativity.


UPDATE 8:30 PM PST - Actually, read but don't get too scared. Or get scared at the thought of money-changers in the temple of the crazyblackgenius crack-up. As it happens, chappelleconspiracy.com was registered just a few months ago by WebLinc LLC, a Philly-based interactive agency whose client list ranges from Urban Outfitters to Crayola.

Registrant:WebLinc, LLC
XXX North XXth Street
Suite 200
Philadelphia, PA 19107


Administrative Contact , Technical Contact : WebLinc, LLC
WebLinc, LLC
XXX North XXth Street
Suite 200
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Phone: 215-XXX-XXXX
Fax: 215-XXX-XXXX

Record expires on 06-Oct-2006
Record created on 06-Oct-2005
Database last updated on 06-Oct-2005

Of course, a registration whois proves bupkis, but it does suggest that rather than having found a brother/sister in the site's imagined creator, I have instead been interpolated as a customer/end-user (BZZT! ZAPP!) for WebLinc's client. (I know, I know; they're not mutually exclusive. My hope for complete fellowship springs eternal nonetheless.) Given that Comedy Central will be airing the episodes Chappelle completed before calling it quits, I'd put even money that chappelletheory.com is a viral ad for the new episodes - that or the kids at WebLinc have some serious spare time on their hands. (Third possibility: Chappelle has another project in the works and needs to creating a meme-hole about leaving Comedy Central in order to accommodate it.)

I don't have much truck with purists who think creativity for hire or in the service of advertising is lesser or tainted creativity. Some of my favorite thin, ephemeral things exist only to market solid things, and some (music videos, for example) completely transcend their origins as shills as far as I'm concerned. (Most times at least. There are a lot of bad videos out there.) Still, there's something "funny peculiar" about how chappelletheory.com (assuming it is an ad. Any sleuths out there with info?) harnesses black paranoia. It brings to mind ad initiatives where a non-black-owned product looked to authorize itself through a marketing tie-in or affiliation with a particular civil rights org or institution. chappelletheory.com is a pothead inversion of the organizational-tie-in gambit, where instead of insinuating itself into a demo via the trojan horse of a guaranteeing black institution, the site's wry, smoked-out expansiveness associates with a specific kind of black alienation. It aims itself directly at the mid-brains of the kind of head that sympathized with Chappelle's defection from celebrity while simultaneously resenting his decision to stop bringing the jokes.

If there's a telling (damning?) contradiction at the heart of chappelletheory, it's the site's foundational notion that Dave might have been undone by the inherent conservatism of the black "old guard." Don't get me wrong; I find Robert L. Johnson as odious as the next black commentator, but the thing is that Dave Chappelle had already long cracked the code of how to say funny, true, fucked up shit to/about black people. That's what his comedy is about in the first place, and its success was so monumental precisely because Whoopie and Bob and Bill held no terrors for him from jump. It was the later, uncannily cohered, national dragon that he was having trouble slaying. After all, in his Time interview Chappelle complains not of black rejection, but of white love, of making white folks laugh a little too hard.

So with all that in mind, why does an ad agency make a joke site about Dave Chappelle where the villains are black folks? More on the money: For which client? There are lots of ways to harness the engines of race consciousness, and for all kinds of reasons - fun, profit, aesthetic effect and so on. None of the possible permutations denies or undoes all the ways that chappelletheory is funny. It's very funny, very well crafted. I just want to know who I'm laughing with and at. Dave was always very up front with us about that; put him and Neil's names in the credits, their salt-pepper mugs in the jokes. It's not much to ask that anyone evoking him and his particular comedic FX do the same.

Posted by ebogjonson at 5:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 15, 2005

mr howard's globe

Terrence Howard's been nominated for a Golden Globe. Back in '99 I had occasion to interview him for Interview (which really needs a better web presence) about the release of The Best Man. It was a phoner, but he managed to create a rather vivid persona for me by letting loose with a string of off the wall pronouncements about what a bad/troubled man he was. Looking back I get the impression he made some assumptions about me based on the venue - i.e., that I was white and gay - and accordingly decided to tart himself up with a bunch of weird mess.

Back in 99 his biography included a masters, but in a recent interview it's a BS in chemical engineering. At the time of our convo, me and my editor had a feeling he was slightly off his rocker, but in a considered way that now recalls the seduction DJay puts together for Skinny Black.

Anyway, best of luck Terrence. Stay out trouble!

[Originally published January 12, 2000 in Interview magazine.]

Terrence Howard may act, play about six instruments and know enough about physics to have earned a master's degree, but just now what he's most enjoying is being bad. Unlike the standard array of pretty boys, thugs, and would-be pimps that patrol Tinseltown's margins, Howard has been making a career out of taking the usual suspects offered black actors and imploding them from within, his personal brand of big-screen pathology explained not with nods to the cliched hard-knock streets, but to particularly biblical spectacles - the preacher who glories in going wrong, the angel who eagerly falls. Howard has done the up-and-corner's sitcom shuffle and his big break technically came as a misunderstood kid in Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), but the roles that have made him a newly hot commodity are drawn from what seems like a shadow filmography: a crazed Vietnam vet turned pulpit hustler in the downbeat Dead Presidents (1995), a cagily confused child-murderer on last season's NYPD Blue, and now Quentin, the slickly demonic instigator from the black-love flick The Best Man.

Depending on his mood, the well-spoken and fast-laughing Howard explains his facility with not-very-nice men in different ways, talking craft here and referencing a multifaceted artistic childhood there, all before nonchalantly mentioning that he watched his father kill a man one Christmas Eve over exactly whose kid was next in line to sit on a store Santa's lap. The detail and delivery are pure Howard, the line between impulsive concession and coldly considered media savvy typically blurred. The only thing that's clear is that Terrence Howard isn't just good at messing with audiences and interviewers' heads; he likes doing it, too.

GARY DAUPHIN: Everyone who's seen Best Man keys in on your character, Quentin. Could you tell me a little bit about him?

TERRENCE HOWARD: Quentin is that young rich kid who's not satisfied. He's gone through a period of trying to tear down his life and now he's just going to watch, see what happens. But he's truthful. He's half-demon, half-angel, because he knows the truth. He could fix things, but he chooses to let life handle its own self instead.

GD: He's definitely a trickster, but on the other hand he seems wounded.

TH: Somebody has hurt him in a bad way. I can relate. I've done some pretty bad things in my life, and I hope not to do them anymore. I'm sitting here in a hotel trying my hardest not to do them now.

GD: [long pause] OK. Watching Quentin on screen, and talking to you, there's a definite sense that both of you enjoy playing with people's minds. How much of you is in Quentin or vice versa?

TH: I'm not sure. I know I can't separate myself from him anymore. He's always going to be a piece of me. Just the same as [crazy Vietnam vet] Cowboy from Dead Presidents will always be there. And the psychotic from NYPD Blue.

GD: There's this kind of weird buzz around you fight now. You're like the black prince of darkness.

TH: [laughs] Is that what they call me, the black prince of darkness? OK, as long as they want me to come out and be the angel, too, because every prince of darkness started off as an angel. Very few people say, "Wow, you were so wonderful in Mr. Holland Opus." They say, "I remember you in that." Then they say, "Boy, I knew that guy in Dead Presidents." And they liked watching him get beat up.

GD: Does that bother you?

TH: It's all right. People like what they like. I like it from the back. I'm speaking a little more candidly here because I don't want to be misinterpreted as to who I am or what I'm about. I'm not the nicest guy in the world, but I'm definitely honest. If there is any part of Quentin that's a part of me, it's that brutal honesty. But I'll play those kind of characters, mostly because I don't see anybody else who's able to do it. I look forward to somebody who can come and relieve me.

GD: You talk about acting in terms of challenge and power a lot.

TH: It's emotional warfare. I'm pulling no punches.

GD: So what's up next?

TH: I'm about to do this movie called Sextet with Djimon Hounsou and Omar Epps. It's about a hip-hop band. The character that I'm playing is gay - in-the-closet gay. And he likes to abuse young men. He's not just having sex with them; he's doing it in a very abusive, debased manner. But he's a man and when I say that, I say it in the sense that most people think when you're gay, you're not a man. He's a man who happens to like boys. Sextet's a challenge because of the things I'll have to deal with and come to grips with emotionally. Am I homophobic? Can I really portray someone who's gay and say I've never had those feelings? How do I approach that and how do I surrender to it? And then there's being an epileptic.

GD: He's an epileptic, too?

TH: Yeah. I'm going to have seizures. I've never done that. I may not get it on the first take, but before it's over, before the day is done, I'll have it.

GD: How about further down the line?

TH: I want the Oscar. Not the supporting actor Oscar, but for best actor. I also want the Nobel Prize.

GD: In what?

TH: Science.

GD: That's right - you studied physics.

TH: I got my masters in physics. I figured out the shape of the universe. And I want the Grammy, too. I want it all! And not for the glory of it, but just for something to do. If I've got to be in this game, why not win? I'm in it for the battle.

GD: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

TH: Thank you. Have fun with the article.

GD: I will.

TH: Don't let them put one of those bad pictures of my fat side on there.

GD: I'll pass that along.

TH: Thanks.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:17 PM | Permalink

December 10, 2005

rest in peace

65. The older I get, numbers like that seem smaller and smaller. (The above still is from the Wattstax website.)

Stir Crazy was the first movie my mother and I could agree upon. She took me twice without acting like I had dragged her there. It was almost like we were two friends out for the night. (Did it have an R-rating? I was 10 and I remember my mother being vaguely ratings conscious. Could it have gotten that strong an endorsement?)

My father, who always fell pointedly asleep in his recliner on any movie I imposed on the communal televison, once stayed up late to watch the entirety of Live on the Sunset Strip with me. He didn't exactly bust a gut laughing but he didn't turn away either. Besides his fascination with cars and lawns, it's the most American thing I can remember him doing in his entire life.

I've got ambivalence about heroes and such, but Richard Pryor goes on the short list, easy.

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:41 PM | Permalink

December 9, 2005

origin of future species

From Sci-fi.com. Hat tip Mike:

Edward James Olmos - Commander William Adama

Q: I cannot easily remember the last Latino cast member of a show set in space, and here you are as the commander of the entire ship. Do you feel that TV needs more of this kind of representation?

Olmos: Yes I do. ... I'm a total human being myself so all I can tell you is yeah, it feels really great and I think they should continue to move in that direction. Because the future really is in the hands of the culturally diverse. There's no way the European-based cultures are going to be able to replenish themselves as quickly as the non-European cultures do. So there's going to be a lot more Africans and a lot more Asians and a lot more Latinos than there will be Europeans a hundred years from today.

But that's what happens when colored bodies start slappin' across a relatively short evolutionary time frame.

Posted by ebogjonson at 10:01 AM | Permalink

December 8, 2005

racial switcheroo

From the Moonenite UPI. (Sorry.) Hat tip NABJ listerv.

The FX cable network will air a documentary series that switches the races of two families, which drastically changes their everyday lives.

Filmmaker R.J. Cutler and hip-hop actor Ice Cube produced the six-episode series, "Black. White.," in which makeup was used to turn a black family white and a white family black, Zap2it.com reported Wednesday.

"I'm really excited to be a part of a show that explores race in America," Ice Cube said. "'Black. White.' will force people to challenge themselves and really examine where we stand in terms of race in this country."

The Sparks family of Atlanta and the Wurgel family of Santa Monica, Calif., shared a home in Los Angeles for six weeks of filming during the summer.

"This series is an example of how television can be an extremely powerful and useful medium," Cutler said. "I believe the Sparks and Wurgels took a big chance but are better people for having done so."

The show is scheduled to bow in March.

Needless to say, I really can't wait.

The set-up and casting for this show suggests a fairly low level engagement with the great BOGish, alchemical work (which is to say, with the physical transmutation of black men into white and vice versa). What will likely happen is that the two families will be asked to "live like" the other while Cube cracks wise, which may tell us more about class in LA than race.

One can, however, imagine a 2.0 version of the show that involved the deployment of "passable" families firmly associated with specific polarities - a light skinned black family, or some curly haired Sicilians perhaps. Full on racial prosthesis may be another solution, although, the BOGish work of transmutation is as easily frustrated by glitches in the software as it logistical problems associated with the wet stuff.

One question though: what is the official Moonenite position on BOGish transmutation? All those group marriages, did they mix the races up as well?

Posted by ebogjonson at 2:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 7, 2005

updated: america's next top robbery

The above girl did not win America's Next Top Model. This cornfed little wench did.

Tyra, Tyra, Tyra Banks. How could you? Did those white heifers at Elle Girl or Covergirl tell you three colored winners in a row might get your stupid show categorized as "ethnic?" The folks at UPN whisper that a black show's no longer the right kind of lead in for Veronica Mars?

Choosing a "top model" (whatever the fuck that is) is one of those exercises that pretty much defines "subjective," but by elevating a whining, choking brat (if that; Nicole's little more than a button nose and some hair) you and your judges threw all pretense of fairness out the window. The win for Nicole endorses that moron Twiggy's borderline-racist refrain - "when I look at blank I see a model" - blank without fail being some bland white girl. I know you're in "model retirement" Tyra, and are putting on weight faster than Oprah on a mid-90s upwards yo-yo dieting tear, but are you so beholden to your advertisers (craven) that you'd elevate the weaker girl simply for the sake of your series' strategic positioning? Nik was the prettier girl and she was a consistent, genuine and professional performer throughout. But three black winners in a row was apparently too much for the black ex-supermodel.

Sorry Nik. Best of luck, though. One door closes, another opens and all that. By which I mean that the cleverest reality game show is back on - Project Runway. It's like Jeopardy for aesthetics junkies.

Updated: From ET, care of TWOP:

"The one thing about Nicole is she has the model 'thing' more than any of our other winners -- the body type, the face type and the attitude," Tyra explains. "She really is a fashion model. She reminds me of the girls I modeled with when I was in Europe when I was 17 years old. Some of the girls were a little shorter, had big bubbly personalities, or certain things were off or different, but Nicole has the model 'thing.'"

Whatever. I suppose that as long as there are plenty of Nicoles in the world, your random, huge-foreheaded LAgurl self stays as exotic as possible.

Posted by ebogjonson at 9:58 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2005

terri hearts jonanthan

Didja catch Terry McMillan and her gay ex-husband Jonathan on Oprah yesterday? A few thoughts:

1 - Read at the most superficial (and therefore untrustworthy) level possible, dude came off as pretty queer, raising the question of what Terry could possibly have been thinking. While it's likely Jonathan has amped his vibe up since coming out, I have a knee-jerk inability to fully sympathize with (i.e., believe) cosmopolitan, college-educated, middle-class women who claim to wake up one morning shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to find their husband/boyfriend of 5 years has (doh!) a trunk full of gay S&M pROn in the garage. Is it really any surprise that the half-your-age rent-boy found recumbent on the burning sands of Jamaica is gay? Any gigolo - black or white, from here to Richard Gere - is always already tainted by bitchery, something any romance novelist worth their salt should know even if they'd never say so in public.

2 - In Terry's defense, though, black men are trained by history to police their public-facing boundaries with particular care and enthusiasm, so if anyone can put one over, it's likely the properly motivated brother.

These days the interesting action vis-à-vis the DL is seem to being played out in class-bounded arenas, this by thug-loving brothers whose aesthetic/safety hangs on the accurate interpolation of the gullier strains of black hyper-masculinity. Nelson George once wondered (and I'm recollecting/paraphrasing, so lay the blame for any issues on my game of telephone) if the drug war and its incarceration of vast numbers of black men in their sexually formative years was creating a new category of SSL (same sex loving) men that sat outside the boundaries of trad gay/bi identity. I'm inclined to believe him think there might be a connection there, and there's likely a world of self-published lit out there (on the shelf next to the books about the 15 year old drug dealer baby momma) that is less the lush, glossy stuff of E. Lynn Harris and more the grimey stuff of Oz.

2- On another register entirely, I'd like to see two, maybe, three parallel tracking black remakes of Bravo's Boy Meets Boy: one for college-educated, big city types over 35, one for younger, bling-minded street soldiers (post-millennial banji realness), and one for Southern church-going, choir-ish types. Unlike the actual Bravo series, which encouraged mercenary straight actors to break the hearts of poor defenseless gay actors, this version would be more observational, teams of black women competing to spot the gents on the DL. Prizes TBD.

3 - Message to Stedman - DO NOT FUCK WITH OPRAH'S MONEY. Of all the outrages to which the decidedly pro-Terry Oprah had the opportunity to react, it was Jonathan's attempt to nullify his pre-nup that most visibly incensed her. She about barked at gay ex-husband to explain why he should expect to get a cent from Terry. While I agree with her POV and loved the Judge Judy imitation, I also have a hard time imagining O going all bare knuckle on the empty-headed trophy bride of a famous black male author the same way. In so much as Jonathan Plummer imagines he has any rights to Terry McMillan's ducats, it clearly has to do not just with his sexual service, but with the fact that How Stella Got her Groove Back, roman and cine, is the couple's combined story. That seems fairly straightforward (along with the fact that people do all kinds of dumb shit while mad, divorcing and lawyered-up), but Oprah would have none of it.

5 - Oprah's on-air shrink Robin Smith was actually pretty good. Did O replace that wayward money-changing whore in the temple of mental health - Dr. Phil - with Smith?

5 - I started the episode feeling mock bad for Jonathan - poor Jonathan! Trapped like every call girl is trapped between the john and a payday! - but ended up feeling genuinely bad for Terry. Her boy toy had clearly betrayed her to the core on numerous fronts - as a wife, as a woman, as an aging woman, as a celebrity, as a fifty-and -loving-it success story, as a romance expert, a technician of black love. (Her books have always struck me more a fictionalized self-help than literature.) McMillan's taut, contorted face, her leaned-back, protective body-language all suggested that so many months later she was still in a kind of shock. And you know what? Every time the camera pulled away from her traumatized carriage for commercial you would catch the wall came tumbling down as she turned towards her cheating, gay, money-grubbing ex-husband - patting him, flicking at him, leaning in to make an off-mike, probably off-color joke whose terms only he would understand. She's obviously still in love with dude. It'd be cruel to call that pathetic, but it was definitely sad.

Posted by ebogjonson at 4:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 5, 2005

[updated] about, uh, Madonna's new video

[Updated 12:30AM 11/3, notes at end]

1 - the video may be viewed here. All the comments below refer to the video and not the song.

3 - From its opening scene - Madonna working out moves solo in a rehearsal space - Hung Up wants to cobble together an internally consistent visual vocabulary that conjoins the aging Material Girl and the video's stand-ins for state-of-the-art cool: i.e., a plethora of young, dancing, colored bodies. It's an asymmetrical conjoinment largely concerned with process, mental real estate, appearances, plausiblity and (of course) Madonna's vanity and ego. The actual (real world) outcome of such a dance off isn't Hung Up's problem, making sure Madonna doesn't look the fool is, or, more precisely, that she doesn't look old. Confronted here by (predominantly) black people, the bar for victory is set significantly higher than when Madonna was confronted by, say, Britney Spears, and so her sights are reflexively set lower. Her goal here is basically just to keep up, and maybe get off if she's very very lucky.

3.5 - Bodies will dance, will hump, jump, mug, face off on the subway and throughout there won't be a white figure meaningfully engaged by the camera but Madonna's, a grabby Ms. Ciccone claiming representative / emblematic pole position over her entire race. In contrast to her well-honed, practiced singularity, the colored kids are figured by the video en masse - multiple, organic, hothouse and fecund in their black/asian/latino variety.

4 - (And really, who better to represent white people on the dance floor / Space Ark than Madonna? William F. Buckley? Judge Judy? Pee Wee Herman? Susan Sontag? Billary?)

5 - Hung up is ripe with anachronisms lifted from Madonna's 80s heyday. There's all those British Yout on a wacky race to the club, the cast styled just-so in the latest retro-BBoy finery, their antics reruns of Benny Hill and What's Happening. There's the rehearsal motif figuring Madonna in Larry Bird terms - hard working, practices a helluva lot, earns her spot on the roster by dint of a regimen of 10000 jump shots a day. There are the endless de-contextualized outbursts of quaint colored physical creativity - black folks just BE dancing AND SHIT - all the folks arrayed around Madonna young, moist little Magics to her Bird, gifted naturals bursting with Jack Kirby-esque energies. The one shot of an Asian chick stretching on a rooftop (sweet burdens of classical training) may run parallel to Madonna's dutiful self-ministrations, but it's a throwaway, a visual wormhole feeding into one of the video's recurring fantasy ciphers. Our stretchy Asian sistergirl is ultimately just reflexively shaking herself out before doing what Hung Up imagines colored folk naturally/jungalistically do; leap down concrete project staircases, for example, exultantly.

6 - Not for nothing, but the conflagration between, well, us and Madonna never actually materializes, strategic retreat in this case apparently being the better part of valor. By video's end, the rumors of war against the avatars of color are revealed to be largely the stuff of erotic fantasy, some motivational diddle-diddle playing out in the Material Girl's head while she works up a sweat alone in her rehearsal room. The video's fantasy cum shot happens outside the circle of dancers Esther Madonna Louise Ciccone Ritchie has seemingly been practicing to enter, Madonna instead hugging the wall where, no joke, she'll be passed between a Latin (BOGish?) dude, a Black dude, an Asian dude, a South Asian chick (MIA? Factually, no, but in concept, definitely), and a Black chick, in pretty much that order. In so much as Madonna dreams of clubland domination, she clearly means it in the "turned out in the bathroom" sense of the word.

7 - Mapped against Madonna's previous wholesale re-inventions Hung Up isn't particularly novel, and it's already being derided by her (online) fan base as "safe." While that's a legit read, the "safe" critique requires Madonna be frozen in time, its critical touchstone her own 20-year record of shifting persona. If you instead put Hung Up against the (nonexistent) backdrop of the 2005 output by the other chart toppers from 1985 it goes from disappointment to reasonably impressive display of stamina. Those of you waiting for Madonna's "American IV: The Man Comes Around" (or, conversely, despairing of its very possibility) need to flash forward 30 years or conspire to put her on her deathbed (ha!). Your revulsion is less engagement with the video and more terror and rage that the bitch just won't shut the fuck up.

7.5 - You also may be revolted that Madonna is still chasing colored dick/clit despite being older than pop culture dirt, i.e., 47. Give credit where credit is due. Hung Up's final, ballsy sexual proposition is that Madonna is and ever shall be the biggest, most-predatory, most powerful, most-slummy, most whorish LES white girl there ever was. There are many things Madonna is wrong about, but her ability to stamp competing white tramps (of any age) under a stilleto boot hell is not one of them. Make her 47, drop her in London, give her Kabbalistic religion, marry her to a hack director and it still won't mean a proverbial thing.

8 - The figurative gangbang to which Madonna surrenders (this while the "real" dancers dance) is in stark contrast to her search and destroy mission against the sexual/professional essence of poor little Britney at the '03 VMAs. The reason, of course, that Madonna could so easily manhandle the doily-like Spears while the unabashedly skuzzy Xtina escaped with some small measure of agency intact is that Britney plays it fairly white. (Her white trash-(in)bred, Springer-esque tendencies are the only avenues through which she could be plausibly niggerized.) Flash forward from the VMA's to Hung Up. where Madonna finds herself the one rapturously trembling before (six different kinds of) totemic pop otherness. Her self-ownership and purposefulness in the opening workout sequence isn't effaced by her subsequent surrender. In fact, her rigor is what makes the later (fantasy) release to the dusky sublime possible. The image of practice and rehearsal is a schematic, a plausible (to racist white people, that is) methodology by which an aging white woman may be imagined to pull hard-bodied, 19 year old blasianatinos. The secret recipe? Be rich, give good fashion, wear tall boots, keep your weight down, dance dance dance. Be Madonna.

9 - (Think of the practice sequence as a kind of whitegurl prayer to the gods of miscegenation, wherein the supplicant seeks to call down the physical resources necessary for the aping of colored kinesiology.)

9.5 - Charged as it is with creating a visual vocabulary to support a kind of one-woman sexual gerontocracy, Hung Up resorts to three "hacks" in hopes of short-circuiting our natural inclination to view its entire enterprise as absurd. First is Madonna's aforementioned feint and then retreat from any actual danceoff, her proper cipher becoming the orgy with the six kids against the wall. Second is the fact that in addition to the wall bit Hung Up also includes a semi-sex scene where Madonna rides (and I mean rides) her rehersal room boom box like it was a sybian sex machine. The solo, slow mo, dancefloor-lit romp atop the faux sybian upends Hung Up's presumed narrative arc - pro-active white girl works out to get limber before drifting to the dark downtown for a bit of strange - turning it into a techy auto-erotic fantasy powered by beats and bass. Indeed, the last shot of the video is Madonna lying on her rehearsal room floor, all fucked out and shit, by nothing, the old saw that the brain is the most powerful sex organ finding application in her oeuvre for perhaps the first time ever.

9.6 - Third hack: The sybian's feint towards a notion of masturbatory, enacted simulacra is echoed in the closing group scene where the club dance floor is abruptly replaced by a Dance Dance Revolution pad. The substitution is completely unmotivated, DDR floating through the video unmoored from diegesis. The pad comes back to its roots as surface here, Madonna alternately line dancing on it (centered in frame, of course) and free-lancing some moves that bear no relation to any visible game-play. Still, the suggestion that after so many different drummers have been offered up for Madonna to dance to - negrophilia, MILFy hubris, pop monomania - she might finally submit to DDRs pixellated virtual notation gives Hung Up a whiff of sober honesty, if not outright futurism. The DDR bit brings us full circle, makes the video a powerfully concise treatise on simulation and fakery and fantasy. The pun is priceless: Of course the video is a game; how else could a woman her age possibly hope to play? The current association between videogames and youth will disappear as the generations above us (us=me=37) die off, meaning that in the future the old will play MORE videogames, not less. 80 year olds will hold XBOX Tesseract rushing records. Jacked in via plug in the back of your neck, you will have the hottest sex ever with a bedridden great grandmother named Myrtle. At the age of 100 Madonna will release her final video. Thoroughly interactive and she will dance with each and every one us, maybe more depending on our settings.

10 - Me, I gotta go to sleep. Some specific praise for Hung Up's director should go here, but I'm way too tired..

[Update note: I've made a few language changes here and there. Item #2 re: Deluzian subtitling has been deleted (on grounds of dumbness). Item #3's been broken in two and #7's been split as well. I added two more items between 9 and 10.]

Posted by ebogjonson at 3:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 1, 2005

imaginary dope for imaginary ghettos

Department of apropos of nothing: jimi iz recently posted a filmclash wherein Deep Cover and Shaft go mano-a-mano. I don't have much to say about Shaft, but Deep Cover's is one of my fave flicks. How come? In no particular order, a few points of interest are sketched out below:

1 - Deep Cover's McGuffin - i.e., Fishburne and Goldblum's initial quest to produce and market a side-effect-free super-high - has always struck me as vaguely science-fictional, afrofuturistic even. For one, their chemical grail is clearly on some next-level, as-yet-unmade shit, a veritable tricorder of ghetto speed: non-addictive, aphrodisiacal, hang-over free. (For those of you untainted by drugs or their associated culture, in real world terms the pair's hypothetical shit seems to sit somewhere between ecstasy and some kind of nicey-nice meth, with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg thrown in a la Tyrone Biggums' recollection of his first taste of crack.)

The happy making super-drug is just an opening gambit, of course, a combustible designed to launch Deep Cover on its ultimate arc. That the super-drug thing is as doomed as Jeff G's homoerotic dream of a coked-out, irony-driven black-Jewish comity doesn't undermine its appeal as an initial, vaguely utopian feint, though, the pair's search for a transformative urban upper not so much sitting in contrast to R. Raygun-era memes of mutant crack-babies and zombie base-heads but running in parallel, an alternate history to the actual age of crack.

Perversely, it's precisely the 80s and 90s nightmare tropes about crack cocaine that make possible (if not exactly necessary) the slew of later, science-fictional tropes for drug production that you'll find in any flick from here to New Jack City where enterprising heads cook product in NASA-style clean rooms tucked into the corners of abandoned tenements. (I call this "perverse" because coke/crack is largely pre-Paleolithic from a technology-standpoint, concerned as it is with the power of, like, fire.) The 80s/90s image of colored drug addiction, forced as it was to answer to three different masters (white racism, black middle class embarassment and hip hop's amoral fetishization of the hustle, i.e., hate the game, not the mind/body destroying player) was always more than the insufficient images Lalaland was built/intending to provide, so one of the ways flicks processed the excess energy was to recast the security and communications technology used by street corner hustlers as proto-cyberpunk. Think Ice-T in Ricochet, where dude isn't just Denzel's bad seed pal from back in the day, but the owner-proprietor of a drug factory so futuristic it could have been lifted straight out of Tom Clancy or lesser William Gibson. Or think (in a later example) Belly, where DMX hears about an esoteric next-gen heroin while watching MTV News and Louie Rankin's Lennox faces off against a razorgirl-type assassin.

(True. You're thinking the 90s were all about recasting current consumer technology as the first glimmer of the cyberpunk future - "You will..." are now / did - but I think there's something extra going on in the AA directed drug flicks like Deep Cover.)

2 - The cop/not-cop war of I-against-I that has Fishburne agonizing throughout Deep Cover is a classic syndrome that's afflicted movie narcs, house negroes, spies and hostages alike since, uh, jump street. It's also the central conceit of Philip K. Dick's 1977 sci-fi novel A Scanner Darkly, wherein a drug called "Substance D" splits protagonist Bob Arctor into warring personalities, one belonging to a/the cop, the other to his drug dealer quarry.

Among other glories, Scanner Darkly contains the single most amazing stoner set piece ever, wherein some high-as-a-kite motherfuckers argue at length (and convincingly) about whether or not a bike they've found has seven, ten or twelve gears. It really has to be read (high) to be believed.

For an additional feedback loop into item #1, consider that the racial problematic (crudely stated, doubled consciousness) Deep Cover translates into genre-pic dialectics (i.e., to cop or not to cop) is, much like its hypothetical super-drug, almost immediately science fictional. I mean, what's double consciousness if not a sort of duel between homunculi? (Or, how about a Matrix-type reality effect produced by the implant that's been stuck deep in the metaphorical rump of black identity by white supremacy?)

If I remember correctly, Scanner Darkly avoids any explicit entanglement with race (there is some kind of SoCal Latino / Central American / Indian overlay) but so what? The nut of all afrofuturist fanboy enthusiasm is ever the sneaking suspicion that any science-fictional notion worth its alien salt encodes (and thus lays bare) some aspect of the IRL race dynamic. That kitchen-sinking, singularity-craving impulse may be a tad adolescent, but that doesn't make it necessarily false. In a Baconian Universe (as in Kevin Bacon), Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man sits a mere two star degrees away from H.G. Wells'.

John Amos was in All Over Again (2001) with Robert Loggia
Robert Loggia was in Greatest Story Ever Told, The (1965) with Claude Rains

John Amos was in Ralph Ellison: An American Journey.
Claude Rains was in the Invisible Man. Two steps, just like I said.

3 - Speaking of Baconian universes, Deep Cover screenwriter Michael Tolkin also co-wrote Deep Impact, where mother Earth gets KA-BLATTED by an asteroid on a black president's watch. His directorial debut was The Rapture, which also pondered the connection between late 20th Century forms of debasement and transcendental utopia, Mimi Roger's swinger finding god just in time for the second coming. Go figure.

4 - Finally, Deep Cover contains one of the best crackhead set pieces ever. Lots of heads will claim Chris Rock's Pookie from New Jack City and some hold out for Sam Jackson's Gator for Jungle Fever. The dudes with chronic masturbation issues fantasize double Halle Berry features from Losing Isaiah and the aforementioned Jungle Fever, and those of you got here yesterday are rooting for Chappelle's Biggums. All legit points of view, but Deep Cover's Kamala Lopez Dawson offers a bar-setting clinic. First off is the fact that Lopez-Dawson engages her single, key scene with the rabid, desperate gusto of the Hollywood C-lister taking their last/best shot for the brass ring. Her cracky Belinda tears through the genre's entire repertoire of effects with startling economy, ranging from the de rigueur "I'll suck your dick!" to the pathetic moment when the busted crackhead decides to monetize their own child. When Fishburne demurs on all counts, her crack-blunted pride erupts (the spark is tiny and internal: she mistakes his moral outrage for haggling, i.e., another market referendum on her value) sending Belinda into bang-zoom shifts of gear and timbre that transform her from an emblematic, impulse-control lacking social loser to a transcendent object of debasement. She dies at the end, of course, for eveyone's sins to be sure, but largely for her own.

It really is a great scene, and when I get some time I'll post a transcript of the dialogue with a chart outlining her zigs and zags.


Posted by ebogjonson at 4:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 31, 2005

thanks for nothing, jim

Critic J. Hoberman recaps 50 years of village voice film criticism.

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August 8, 2005

late rizer (updated 8.9.05)

Finally got around to seeing David LaChapelle's much-hyped Rize last night. Overall verdict is that I'm glad to have been introduced to krumping and its putative inventor Tommy the Clown, but my feeling of gratitude doesn't extend to director LaChappelle. The images of dancers and dancing LaChapelle recorded make for genuinely great clips (thanks, Dave!), but the non-dancing parts of the doc suffer from a woeful lack of ambition and imagination.

I'd deliberately avoided Rize while apartment hunting in LA last month, as bounding out to see it at that particular juncture felt like self-conscious (cynical?) geographic bandwagon jumping. (Kind of like someone moving to NYC post 9/11 and immediately trying to autodidact/google themselves into terror connoisseur status, if not quite veteran.) Being introduced to a given black scene by any form of professional media (alternative weeklies, for example, or independent films) always induces a series of anxieties in me - jealousy that I hadn't gotten there before Livingston, followed by depression at having projected myself into the Livingston (native informant?) slot in the first place. Rize is just a rote journey of pseudo-discovery, though, so the worst I experienced was a newbie-Angeleno's cartographic confusion about the neighborhoods and streets depicted on screen. (South LA vs South Central, anyone?)

Outside of scoring cool points for the director and tugging at liberal heartstrings, Rize's main conceptual ambition seems to be winning the essentialist side-bet that's played out between the dance sequences and ghetto uplift set-pieces. LaChapelle uses soundtrack, ethnographic source footage and his subjects' pre-installed conceits about the souls of black folk to craft a kind of Afrocentrism-for-Dummies sub-plot, one where the goal is to go from West Africa to Watts in as few steps as possible. Unfortunately, Rize lacks the context or rigor to succeed as any kind of anthropology or ethnography, being instead a kind of Dr. Phil meets Robert Farris Thompson amalgam where getting out of bed while poor and black is enough to earn you installation as a streetcorner santero, mambo or houngan. In that kind of slack, credulous cultural framework, krumping's somatic innovation (pop your chest and ass fast enough and some curious-looking shit happens) isn't offered for consideration as African American dance, but for consumption as a tasty piece cultural resistance cut from the eternal mystery meat (loin?) of a transcendental, Afro-Atlantic ecstasy.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not arguing we should throw the conceit of Afro-Atlantic ecstasy out the window. I wouldn't presume to cut a movie about a place I'd never been to pieces unless I believed I was armed/authorized by some formed of unique underlyingness, be it blackness or good filmmaking or conceptual consistency. The problem is that Rize doesn't take its own premise seriously enough to interrogate it. The now-and-foreverist cultural frame lets LaChapelle off the hook of having to put any effort into getting beneath the thick layer of ghettocentric cliche that krumping swaths itself in the second it aspires to the status of movement. By taking everyone and everything at face/dance value, Rize effectively forecloses whole potential avenues of exploration, like, for example, how krumping connects (or not) to Hollywood's various vogues of the black dancer, from breakdancing flicks to the ubiquitous stripper of hip hop video and movies. (It would have been nice for LaChapelle to note that while the early masterworks of b-boy cinema are set in the Bronx, almost all the later commercial successes - Breakin', or You Got Served - take place in LA.)

And speaking of vogues: what's with how so many of the male dancers in Rize scanned (to me at least) as queer? (My gaydar was probably primed by intertextual background noise about LaChappelle and his photographic "muse," transsexual Amanda Lapore, with a less work-friendly image here.) Gay, straight or indifferent, how masculinity gets performed in krumping was worthy of more explicit excavation, but the purportedly unabashed LaChappelle keeps a strangely chaste distance from the question, this even as his camera soaks in images of black men daintily applying make-up, or prowling across leopard-print satin sheets, or squatting down to do the stripper dance, beefy ass cheeks flying. Gender provocateur Chapelle takes up the question of the stripper dance from an entirely heterosexual and parental POV, i.e., is it "nasty" for an eight year old girl to slide her crotch across the floor like a dog with worms. (Rize's answer - surprise, surprise - is an emphatic "no.") Sure, as numerous on-screen informants testify, the stripper dance has long evolved past its origins as a form of female sexual display. But the film's actual ass-enabled sequences belie the feint towards asexual respectability, each enthusisatic twerk articulating a clearly gendered grammar governing when and where the ass is to be deployed in anyone's face. (It's largely absent in hyper-masculine inter-crew battles, which focus on the chest, but seems fine in ecstatic, familial intra-crew ciphers. A third form of usage comes in the crews who disavow use of the stripper dance altogether, their forbearance bandied about like a point of honor.)

Rize confers on Tommy the Clown the credit for inventing krumping by combining his clown schtick with the stripper dance. (Although most people seem to buy Rize's chronology there is inevitably some controversy about this.) You can easily riff your way through a plausible chain of ass-causality starting with Tommy: clown gets to doing the stripper dance in the largely female and todder-lish arena of the ghetto birthday party, dance jumps a few gridlines thanks to that viral-culture-mutant thing, and all of a sudden young black men all over LA are escaping the dangers of gang life by getting down on all fours and shaking their money-makers like, well, their lives depended on it. It's a wonderfully loopy and clearly incomplete scenario whose twists, turns and decision points would have made for a great documentary. Too bad LaChapelle lacked the courage (or the engagement) to film it.

Posted by ebogjonson at 12:56 AM | Permalink