Saturday, October 30, 2010

Film #136: Player Hating: A Love Story

The beginning of Maggie Hadleigh-West's newest documentary, Player Hating: A Love Story has Brooklyn's Crown Heights hip-hop sensation Half-A-Mill and his posse pressing the front doors of a local venue as bonafide guest listers. It's an in-line madhouse, and there's a crush of security at the threshold, and this is the heightened atmosphere Half-A-Mill desires. "I want my voice to be heard all over the world," he smiles, and dreams. The corner of earth he's being heard in now, though, is one where, Half admits, "you could get into an argument at a store and wind up gettin' killed." The world is changing; there's a lot more triggers being pulled.

Half-A-Mill looks guilty and downbeat when asked by the director if he's a thug. He answers in a gentle voice: "Yeah, you gotta thug it out here." And so Hadleigh-West is along for the ride, 180 days away from the release of Half-A-Mill's debut record Million. She gains full access to Half's crew, the Godfa Criminals, and routes through their prayers for a way out of a lifestyle they may not know how to abandon. She asks Half who his heroes are and, since they come from movies, this tells us a lot:

Some of my heroes was like Goldie or Super Fly. See, Super Fly was a hustler. Goldie was a pimp. He was The Mack, you know what I'm sayin'? He was the master at macking. The pimps, the macks, the hustlers--they created a style back in the days where you could make some. Roll up in those big Cadillacs like money wasn't no problem. These kind of people, they was heroes, because out of a bad situation, they was still living like they was kings, like they was rich, like they was in control...even though they had to do a lot of negative things to do it. You know what I'm sayin'? They did this at a time when people was looked upon like Willy Wimps in society. So it's like, the pimps and the hustlers, they really just outshined all that. When someone has that kinda power, in a neighborhood with nothing, that's what you call makin' something out of nothin'

This is the bottom line of the Player Hating concept: despising those that can make something out of "nothing." Haters have a powerful "professional" jealousy that makes it so that no one can make anything out of anything. This is poverty's effect on its sufferers: it kills almost everything it touches, because what one person gets, another one loses. Hadleigh-West approaches this harsh realm as an extreme outsider, and as such, she gets the truth because, maybe, none of these guys she points her camera at believes their words are really gonna be heard. For all its undeniable energy, Player Hating: A Love Story is a movie that leaves you feeling broadly bruised.

Still, also, you can feel much love throughout the piece, justifying that initially odd subtitle. Violence is touched upon (none is seen, though loss is felt), but the movie's primarily about friendship, and how it's threatened by the juggernaut economics our heroes can barely grasp in light of all their suffering, creativity, fame, stage time, and limo rides. There is, I cannot lie, a bunch of lingering heartbreak in Player Hating: A Love Story: one scene has Half, talking on the phone after the record release, coming to near-tearful conclusions about who really owns the record business: the industry or the artists? The filmmaker knows this is nothing that Frankie Lymon hadn't struggled over with "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" The only difference is, now, Half-A-Mill can catch his record being bootlegged on the Brooklyn streets almost immediately, which he kindly says he can almost understand, given the hard lives being lead all around him.

The film seems to come across more spirit when it centers in on Dooliani, an always-smiling member of Half's entourage, and an unofficial father figure. Doo's been in and out of jail almost all his life, having started selling hard drugs at 13, with his mother as a single parent. But now he's focused in his duties in raising his own son. But one chilling "This can't be good" moment arrives when Little Doo is asked about guns in the neighborhood. "Kids just use 'em to scare people," he says, and then he goes on to tell a story about a cousin who, during a sleepover, put a pistol in his mouth while he was asleep. His unknowing father, cradling his son's head, asks "Why didn't you tell me?" and then inquires if the gun was real, and the child's face is so despondent as he admits "It was real. It had bullets in it. He showed me." Doo Sr. seems speechless, but then pride creeps on to his face when Maggie asks the kid "Were you scared?"

"No. What have I got to be scared for? When I woke up, I slapped him."

The violence of this Brooklyn world takes over more strongly when Hadleigh-West breaks away from Half-A-Mill's goals and dives into the souls inhabiting the concrete projects. She talks to one guy hanging outside the courts about the names of the dead family members tattooed on his arm: three out of four were murdered, and when Maggie says "None of my family members have been killed like that," her subject says only "You're just a lucky one, that's all." The politics of it aren't even mentioned. Only deals for cash give these guys faith, and who the hell can blame them? They know where the bread's at.

Hadleigh-West, the director of the incomparable NYC street doc War Zone, enters into a NYC documentary pantheon that includes Richard Sandler's The Gods of Times Square and Marc Singer's Dark Days with this piece. I love Hadleigh-West's imperfect (but always impeccably held) camera. Its grain makes me feel good. It ain't no Red Eye or anything like that. It has much more character. Her hardware's the equivalent of a war-beaten 16mm camera (especially during the lovely night shots), and it adds a gorgeous grit to the images. No one will mind the low budget. And while I usually dislike documentaries where the not-ready-for-prime-time makers become players in the story (Morgan Spurlock and Nick Broomfield, take note), I adore how Hadleigh-West sweetly fits herself into Player Hating. She's wise enough to let us know every step of the way who everyone is, where we are in the story, which of Half's tracks we're listening to, and what his sales tallies are. And even though her voice is heard, she's never intrusive; we're never resentful of her presence, because she's obviously made her subjects feel first-name comfortable with her (so much so that, when Hadleigh-West finally makes a camera appearance hugging Half-a-Mill goodbye, we feel a palpable burst of devotion towards her).

I've struggled slightly with figuring out if Player Hating: A Love Story plays into white people's doofus prejudices about the hip hop industry, or if it taps into the true reality of it. But this is a silly sideshow sort of concern. Obviously, Hadleigh-West cares deeply about these soul-baring artists (note, specifically, Half's song "Life Hurts," played over the closing credits). She desperately wants to let the world know about the danger in which her subjects are constantly mired, not because of the rap industry itself, but due to an impoverished environment and those resulting values (even those values which we all share). "I coulda been a bum on the street, I coulda been killed," Half says. "I could have been in jail for the rest of my life...Out here, if you're gonna get in this game, the gangster gonna come out of you. The struggle is still on but, guess what, you still mackin', baby."

Half-A-Mill, with and without specs, always speaks so intelligently. He goes on: "The only person in this life you have to prove something to is yourself. Once you feel famous to yourself, you're automatically famous to everybody else. I'm talkin' about self-love." When the record lands, this is when the even more bloody, genuine world--the one outside of the the 'hood--steps in. And it becomes too much for a lot of people involved. Player Hating: A Love Story is one of the premier documents of the Hip Hop Age, and as such deserves a large audience, because it humanely holds nothing back. Absolutely nothing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

10 Scary Possibilities for Halloween

For Halloween, 2010, I offer clips (and, thus, suggestions) of the most mortifying cinematic offerings out there. Gird your loins, and here we go (and spoilers abound so BE WARNED):

JIGOKU (Nobuo Nakagawa, 60).
It's scarier without the subtitles, this unbelievable preview for a bloody tour through Hell. Watch it only if you're brave.

This trailer chronicles the path to an ultimate destination for the Brits' famed Professor Quatermass, finally faced with more than he can handle in this masterpiece of sci-fi/horror from the recently deceased Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker. This is a must for any horror fan.

THEATER OF BLOOD (Douglas Hickox, 73).
A truly magnificent fan-made trailer for Vincent Price's greatest performance on screen. Michael J. Lewis' brilliant theme music takes center stage here. See this one for smarts, laffs, and scares.

HOUR OF THE WOLF (Ingmar Bergman, 68).
A brilliantly constructed trailer for Bergman's one true horror film. As you might expect, there's nothing like it out there.

RINGU (Hideo Nakata, 98).
The incredible cursed videotape, in its entirety.

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (James Whale, 32).
Houseguest Gloria Stuart is put through the ringer by nasty Eva Moore in this radical scare scene from horror master James Whale.

TARGETS (Peter Bogdanovich, 68).
Boris Karloff, as near-retirement horror star Byron Orlock, tells a frightening tale. In its last moments, director/writer Bogdanovich told Karloff to concentrate on the idea of his own death. Karloff did the scene in one take, to crew applause. His final seconds here, pondering his own upcoming time in the grave, cemented Karloff's standing as the continuing King of Horror.

AT MIDNIGHT, I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (Jose Mojica Marins, 64).
An opening credits sequence that'll curdle the blood before the story even begins. That Coffin Joe! What a character!

PHANTASM (Don Coscarelli, 79).
While prowling the Morningside Funeral Home, Michael Baldwin tries to escape from the mysterious, evil Silver Sphere. It may look funny here, but it's horrifying in the context of this relentlessly unsettling film.

IMAGES (Robert Altman, 72).
Susannah York won Best Actress at Cannes in '72 for playing this extremely unbalanced author on holiday with her husband...or...whoever it is. You'll know immediately this is a horror film: simply listen to John Williams' singular, Oscar-nominated score. This movie, and York's screams, will prevent you from sleep.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Movie Poster Collection: D

DAD, CAN I BORROW THE CAR? (Ward Kimball, 70). Folded, VG
I couldn't believe my freakin' luck in finding this one. I had waited years to even SEE this movie again (you can see it here). I'd caught this SHORT film (this is my only one-sheet for a short) on the Wonderful World of Disney back in the mid 1970s, and had always been fascinated by it; it's so incredibly odd. So's the fact that this poster even exists. I love everything about it, but I especially like its detailed psychedelic background. I'll never part with this.

DANIEL (Sidney Lumet, 83). Folded, VG
Gorgeous in every way, this one-sheet for Sidney Lumet's forgotten Daniel, about the kids of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg-like characters, totally haunts me. That photo of the shocked, hairy Timothy Hutton, against that colorful but terrifying background. Plus the total blackness of the poster! Wow. See this movie if you can, if only for the supporting performance of the always reliable but never better Amanda Plummer.

DARK DAYS (Marc Singer, 2000). Rolled, G

THE DARK KNIGHT (Christopher Nolan, 2008) Rolled, M
Given to me by a friend. Double sided and in perfect condition. 

DEAD CALM (Philip Noyce, 89). Rolled, VG
The film deserves better than this, though it IS a weird image.

THE DEAD ZONE (David Cronenberg, 83). Folded, G. NOTE: SIGNED by Stephen King. 

THE DEADLY AFFAIR (Sidney Lumet, 66). Folded, VG
The Lumet title I most want to see, but can't. Where IS this movie? 'Cause the poster and the cast make me wanna see it!

DEATH SHIP (Alvin Rakoff, 80). Folded, G
Another hilarious bad movie, with some actually unsettling gore and an even more unsettling George Kennedy. Co-written by Jack Hill, but very obviously a Canadian production (since both Nick Mancuso AND Saul Rubinek are in it).

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT (Gabriel Range, 2006). Rolled, NM
As someone who has no love for W, I felt I should take this for my collection. There's not another movie out there like this one, that is for sure.

DEATHTRAP (Sidney Lumet, 82). Folded, VG
Yet ANOTHER Sidney Lumet poster, this time for a lark of his that I think was a successful entry into the thriller genre, and one of the best stage-to-screen film adaptations I've ever enjoyed. Extra points for including Rubik's Cube into the design!

THE DECAMERON (Pier Paulo Pasolini, 71). Folded, G
Pasolini. Had to have it, never seen the film.

DEEP END (Jerzy Skolimoski, 70). Folded, VG
I watched this film only recently, and boy, was it great. Not as great as the poster, though. That's Paul McCartney's pre-Linda girlfriend Jane Asher as the female lead.

DEMON SEED (Donald Cammell, 77). Folded, G
The best sexy computer movie ever made.

THE DEPARTED (Martin Scorsese, 2006). Rolled, NM
Even now, I fail to get excited about having this one-sheet, as valuable as it is. I just can't get with this movie, excepting Mark Wahlberg's extraordinary supporting performance.

THE DETECTIVE (Gordon Douglas, 68). Folded, VG
Imagine how different the world would have been had Sinatra accepted the role of Dirty Harry when it was offered to him...

DETROIT ROCK CITY (Adam Rifkin, 99). Rolled, VG
Never seen this, but I love these chaos posters. Kudos to the artist, Phil Roberts.

THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (Peter Sasdy, 75). Folded, VG
What's more frightening--and funny--that that baby/hand carrying the scissors? Maybe that rendition of who I suppose is meant to be Joan Collins...

DIE HARD (John McTiernan, 88) Rolled, NM
Very happily recently rediscovered this was in my collection, rolled up in a tube for nearly 30 years. 

DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (John McTiernan, 95). Rolled, VG
I needed a Die Hard poster, and I still think out of the four available, this one's the best (maybe because New York is in the background). Luckily, I also like the movie, too.

DIGBY: THE BIGGEST DOG IN THE WORLD (Joseph McGrath, 73). Folded, G
Whaaa? This actually is a movie? Yes, it is. I saw it on CBS, as a kid, right after Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

DIRTY WEEKEND (Dino Risi, 73). Folded, VG
What a great poster. Perfect coloring, and the image (you can almost feel the ass-squeeze coming), along with the great tagline, says it all. I've never seen this movie, but lord knows I want to, though I have realistically very low hopes.

DISTRICT 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009). Rolled, M
Not a movie I love. 

DIVA (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 81). Folded, G
The 80s classic, obviously. And how wonderful is it that Dominique Pignon provides the central image?

DIXIE DYNAMITE (Lee Frost, 76). Folded, VG
Warren Oates. 'Nuff said.

DOCTOR GLAS (Mai Zetterling, 68). Folded, VG
Mai Zetterling was a Swedish actress-turned-director, vehemently left-wing and very sexual in nature, and this is the only poster I have of hers. It's creepy.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (David Lean, 65). Folded, 25th Anniversary re-release, G
The famous image that commanded attention in the newspapers for years after the film's release, painted by Howard Terpning. I don't care what anyone says, I still love this movie.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 75). Folded, G
The final Sidney Lumet title from this go round. Beautiful layout--an understated combo of art, photography, and typography. One of the best in my collection.

DONNIE BRASCO (Mike Newell, 97). Rolled, G]
This one-sheet reminds me of a film that would have been better suited being released in the 70s. I adore its simplicity, and the story it tells.

DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS (Paul Mazursky, 86). Folded, G
Ugh. Hate the movie, and all those Miami Vice colors. Let's move on...

THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (Erick Zonca, 98). Rolled, VG
A dull one-sheet for an electrifying film.

DRESSED TO KILL (Brian De Palma, 80). Folded, F
I think I have more De Palma posters than of any other director. This is one of eight that I own. The type takes over a but too much, but the 3D quality of the image still sticks in my mind.

DRIVE-IN (Rod Amateau, 76). Folded, VG
Another chaos poster, obviously influenced by Mad Magazine. The movie ain't half bad, neither.

DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (Stu Segall, 77). Folded, F
One of the very worst posters I own. My love of the drive-in is the only thing that keeps me from trashing it.

My Movie Poster Collection: E

I gotta give it up for Will Pfiefer and his film column for the Rockford Register Star. Not only is the man supremely knowledgeable, he's been trolling the net deeply enough to stumble upon and later compose kind words about My Movie Poster Collection. Thanks, Will, and all readers! And, as always, click on the image you wanna see larger.

E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (Steven Spielberg, 82). Folded, F
The famed image that drove us all crazy when we all didn't know a thing about the movie. Those days are over, that's for sure.

EARTHQUAKE (Mark Robson, 74). Folded, VG
I love this poster, for all the reasons I've already stated that I love all disaster movie posters. This one puts a twist on things, incorporating the fantastic logo into its "Impossible Shot" feel. The film doesn't hold the fascination for me it once did, but the earthquake scenes are definitely moving.

EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (Martin Davidson, 83). Folded, G
Why do I have this? I hate this movie. But I'm glad you like it.

EDUCATING RITA (Lewis Gilbert, 83). Folded, G
How I adore this movie, but boy, does the poster screw the pooch or what? How hard would it have been to get Julie Walters and Michael Caine in the same room together for this shot?

ED WOOD (Tim Burton, 94). Rolled, NM
A squeaky-clean masterpiece of poster art. The movie, and the image, is the finest of the director's 25 year career.

ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (James William Guercio, 73). Folded, Style A, G
An absolute beauty, and the king poster to own if you're police-obsessed. The layout and design here is superb, with a one of the best movie taglines ever ("Did you know me and Alan Ladd are the same height?"), and printed on shiny silver paper.

EL TOPO (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 70). Folded, review sheet, VG
Never liked the movie, but I know a good thing when I see it. As review posters go, this one is tops.

ENCHANTED APRIL (Mike Newell, 92). Folded, G
And no passion for this one, either, though I DO like the movie.

ESCAPE 2000 (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 82). Folded, G
Hilarious. I bought it 'cause Y2K was coming up. Later on, I found this Australian title (obviously a Mad Max-inspired pic) was released under two better monikers: Turkey Shoot and Blood Camp Thatcher. Still, I haven't seen it.

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (Don Siegel, 79). Folded, G
Gorgeous, subtle Birney Lettick art for this final collaboration between director Don Siegel and star Clint Eastwood.

EVE (Robert Lynn and Jeremy Summers, 68). Folded, P
This poster is a scream. The fake reviews really make it, as does the big G rating at the bottom! And I love the artwork. But I tore my copy a bit, so I list it as in poor condition.

EVIL UNDER THE SUN (Guy Hamilton, 82). Folded, VG
As a kid, I was a big fan of these 70s/80s Hercule Poirot movies, like Murder On the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. I actually thought this title, perhaps the least known of the three, was actually the most fun.

EVILSPEAK (Eric Weston, 81). Folded, G
I was so glad to land this poster. Evilspeak is one of the funnest bad movies ever made, with Ron Howard's brother, Clint, taking a rare lead as a nerdy kid at a boy's school who contacts Satan through his Radio Shack computer and unleashes hoards of killer red-eyed pigs on his torturers. It's a must-see. I love that the kid on the poster looks NOTHING like Clint Howard (who'd be very hard to miss in a crowd).

EXCALIBUR (John Boorman, 81). Folded, G
Great movie, great poster (by legendary artist Bob Peak). It'd be hard to let this one go, but I almost gave it away, once.

EXCESS BAGGAGE (Marco Brambilla, 97). Rolled, VG
Acquired (from the Plaza Theater) during my Alicia Silverstone crush phase.

EXECUTIVE ACTION (David Miller, 73). Folded, Style B, VG
The movie is a shitty curio, but I love that the poster has the Kennedy image and Dallas travel route on it. It's gotta be worth something, right?

EXODUS (Otto Preminger, 60). Folded, G
Saul Bass did the unforgettable art here in one of his most iconic outings. The movie, however, is a complete bore.

THE EXORCIST (William Friedkin, 73). Folded, F.
Ahh, this. You know this, don't you? Thank you, Patrick.

EXPRESSO BONGO (Val Guest, 59). Folded, P
This must be one of the rarest posters in my collection. It's beat-up, but still looks okay. Expresso Bongo was one of the first British rock movies, and even though there's not much rock in it, it DOES feature Sir Cliff Richard! One of the oldest pieces in my collection.

EYES WIDE SHUT (Stanley Kubrick, 99). Rolled, VG.
This is the purpled American version of the movie poster (different from the UK version), seen through the Hartford's ornate bedroom mirror. Sigh. How I miss Stanley Kubrick.