September 11th, 2015

Straight Outta Compton

OK. Unless Orson Wells comes back from the grave and remakes Citizen Kane to be about Donald Trump this movie has my vote for Best Picture at the Oscars this year.

This is a vital, striking and often terrifying movie that is incredibly visceral. The scenes between the various members of NWA and the police have a dramatic tension I haven't seen in a long, long time. They put you in the position of feeling what it's like when cops can do practically anything and there is nothing you can do about it at all. If that's  not topical in 2015 I don't know what is.

The plot is fairly standard for movies about young music stars. They start out playing a new type of music, get completely fucked over by record company management and one member dies from the excesses of the lifestyle they lead. And that's fine, because that pretty much is the story of every successful band.

In between the plot thugh you are pulled into what was an  incredibly combative life. When the FBI sends them a warning letter they are facing a very real risk. Just two years before the police had tried to put Jello Biafra in jail for his music and he was a middle class white dude. Why wouldn't they do the same to a bunch of black guys that were far less relatable to the average white American?

The acting is incredible. They inhabit these people, warts and all. My favorite scene is when the Detroit cops tell them point blank they will lock them up if they use lyrics on stage that could incite people. When Ice Cube gets the mike he thinks for a bit about what he's going to do, then gets everyone in the audience to stick their middle fingers in the air and launches into a great version of "Fuck Tha Police."

The film also does one very subtle thing very well. If you pay attention to the shots of the audience at their gigs it very slowly changes from mostly black people to mostly white people. Unsurprisingly they start getting a lot less shit from cops when middle class white kids start forming most of the audience.

The scenes with Suge Knight are incredible. The fact that they are willing to present him as complete and total criminal thug and are not worried about him suing them makes you wonder just how evil he is. (Because, honestly, imagine what the lawyers told them not to put in.)

What the film does best is put NWA in the context of the black version of The Sex Pistols/The Dead Kennedys - which is exactly where they belong. From a philosophical level "Fuck Tha Police" and "Anarchy For The UK" have a lot in common. (And the police in both countries responded in nearly the exactly same way.)

Much has been made of the fact that they don't bring up Dr. Dre's domestic violence arrests. After seeing the film I don't think that's a bad thing. Nothing in this movie happens that doesn't relate to the creation of  their music. We don't get into their personal lives unless they have something to do with the creation of the music or the business side of it.  Dre's violence against women when he was  young simply doesn't relate to the plot of the movie

It's very rare that I see a movie where there is nothing I don't like. This is one of those films. As far as I'm concerned it's perfect.

Why Does Everyone Get Ripped Off

One of the things about Straight Outta Compton is that it makes me wonder once again why nearly every great group gets ripped off by management.

Read any music biography or any movie about a group and it's always the same story. They get completely and totally fucked by the record companies and their managers. Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Stones (and Mick went to the London School of Economics) Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, Van Halen, NWA, George Michael, Prince, The Sex Pistols, etc...

It's always the fucking same deal - they sign a contract that steals nearly all their money. And then when it comes time for a second contract then they get lawyers and figure out just how badly they've been ripped off.

Now, I understand how this happened in the 50s, but by now? I would think even a stoned 17 year old would know, if he or she ever read anything about music, is that you need to get a lawyer to look at your first contract or else you are going to spend the  next four years of your life selling out stadiums and end up either broke or hopelessly in debt while your manager is buying his fifth house.

How does the scam keep on working?