Episode #96 of The Swampflix Podcast: Gully Boy (2019) & Hip-Hop Biopics

Welcome to Episode #96 of The Swampflix Podcast. For our ninety-sixth episode, Britnee, Brandon, and James fight through some technical difficulties to discuss the revisionist artistry of the hip-hop biopic, with a particular focus on Gully Boy (2019), a Bollywood descendent of 8-Mile (2002). Enjoy!

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– Brandon Ledet, Britnee Lombas, and James Cohn

Gully Boy (2019)

When director Curtis Hanson died a few years back, there was an understandable outpouring of appreciation online for a few of his more notable films – titles as disparate as L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and The River Wild. I was mostly on-board with this posthumous gushing for a fairly low-key studio director, but the praise that confounded me at the time was the effusive love for his hit battle-rap melodrama 8 Mile. I just can’t imagine a 2010s audience willingly looking at or listening to Eminem on purpose (especially not the Film Twitter crowd), no matter how rousing the film’s against-the-odds/rise-to-fame story of a trailer park rapper made good could be in the moment. One of the many miracles of the 2019 Indian melodrama Gully Boy – directed by Zoya Aktar – is that it’s finally enabled the world to enjoy the emotional triumph of 8 Mile without having to look at or listen to Eminem, something we sadly can’t always avoid. Detroit’s favorite White Boy makes a brief appearance in a magazine clipping pasted in the lyrics journal of Gully Boy‘s titular aspiring rapper, but that image is mostly just a get-it-out-of-the-way acknowledgement of 8 Mile‘s influence. It’s almost unavoidable that this lengthy Indian battle-rap melodrama will be reductively contextualized as the Bollywood 8 Mile, but I hope that descriptor doesn’t scare anyone off from giving it a fair chance on its own terms. No offense meant to the legacy of Curtis Hanson, but Gully Boy only borrows 8 Mile‘s basic structure in order to create something far superior in both craft &  emotional heft. Its class politics hit harder. Its romantic drama is genuine & heartfelt. And, most importantly, there’s little to no Eminem to be found, which is always a plus.

Loosely based on the lives of “the original gully boys” Naezy & Divine (two rap-fame success stories from the slums of Mumbai), this sprawling melodrama doesn’t necessarily do anything narratively or thematically that you wouldn’t expect based on its early acknowledgement of its 8 Mile story template. That’s why I was shocked to find it one of the most emotionally moving, politically invigorating films I’ve seen all year. Half an aspiring street musician’s triumph against the odds of soul-crushing class disparity and half a Romeo & Juliet-style tale of doomed romance, Gully Boy fully utilizes its 2½ hour runtime to ensure that neither of those tracks plays as a rushed afterthought. An unassuming hip-hop nerd (played by the superhero-handsome Ranveer Singh), living in an overcrowded shanty with his overbearing family and facing a future of lifelong servitude, finds the courage to voice his frustrations with economic injustice in his YouTube-uploaded rap videos. His mentor & idol in the Mumbai’s minor-but-growing rap scene (whom he has a big, goofy boy-crush on) is phenomenally supportive of the new kid on the block, pushing him past class lines & familial roadblocks to a rapid, bewildering success he didn’t know was possible (not least of all because of his debilitating shyness). His efforts to maintain a lifelong romance with a childhood sweetheart under intense scrutiny & surveillance only complicates this rapid rise to fame, which explodes the scope of his world of possibilities from a cramped neighborhood to a global playground. Both of these simultaneous storylines are surprisingly effective, as both are ruthless in refusing to pull political punches in their discussions of class,  gender, privilege, abuse, and – above all else – power. You already know every beat of the story this movie wants to tell, but there’s a heartfelt conviction to its messaging that makes it feel like an anomaly in the rise-to-rap-fame genre.

I suppose you could take an objective look at this film as a fascinating snapshot of American pop culture’s omnipresence as a global export. It’s alarming to see the full scope of how much of our bullshit makes a significant cultural impact worldwide: Eminem, Nas (who’s listed as an Executive Producer here), dabbing, Grand Theft Auto, conversations that inanely pit commercial rap against Real Hip-Hop, etc. Gully Boy  is just as aware of that potential fascination as it is of its inevitable 8 Mile comparisons, though, staging scenes where wealthy American tourists treat our titular hero-rapper’s talent & poverty as a sideshow novelty. Mostly, there isn’t much room to objectively examine Gully Boy as a cultural object all, as it’s continually engaging on a personal, intimate level that more than transcends its potential Bollywood 8 Mile status. Translating the American rise-to-rap-fame story template to an Indian filmmaking sensibility only strengthens its merits as a genuinely engaging melodrama & an act of political Art, not at all reducing it to a novelty act the way you might expect. The lengthier runtime allows you to fully invest in both the rap-hero’s artistry & his rocky romantic life instead of either track feeling rushed or inauthentic. It’s amazing how well rap lyrics like “The lava of my words will melt my shackles,” and sweet nothings like “You let me be myself” land when there’s enough breathing room to fully flesh out their context. Also, Indian cinema’s built-in musical breaks from reality provide the perfect platform for Gully Boy‘s hip-hop music videos, which voice righteously angry class politics at full length & full passion in their allotted space. As much as I’ve enjoyed other 8 Mile improvements & revisions over the last couple decades (Hustle & Flow, Patti Cake$, Straight Outta Compton, etc.), this is now the definitive benchmark for the rise-to-rap-fame genre in my eyes. No offense meant to Curtis Hanson (but plenty of offense meant to Eminem, who remains The Worst and should be avoided whenever possible).

-Brandon Ledet

SuperFly (2018)

Like with all remakes & years-late sequels, there was a lot of pressure on SuperFly to justify its own existence. A modernized retooling of one of the most iconic titles in the blaxploitation canon, this low-budget, high-fashion action thriller sets itself up for comparisons that jeopardize its chance to stand out on its own from the outset. The soundtrack may have been updated from Curtis Mayfield funk to Future trap, and some of the nihilism from the original may have been supplanted with wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it is still largely the same story of an ambitious hustler with beautifully over-treated hair struggling to get out of the cocaine business with one big, final score. Oddly, though, as much as I enjoy the 1972 Super Fly, it wasn’t the biggest compassion point that weighed on this 2018 update for me. Because of the subject and the involvement of prolific music video auteur Director X, I mostly found myself comparing it to Hype Williams’s weirdo art piece Belly, which has a cinematic eye unmatched by any two seconds of Nu SuperFly. Director X shoots the film with the flat digi-cinematography of a South Korean soap opera, which is especially noticeable in larger action set pieces involving drive-bys & car chases. It’s no matter, because SuperFly isn’t trying to be the new Belly any more than it’s trying to relive its source material beat for beat. This is a gleefully trashy, hyperviolent action cheapie with more of an eye for fashion & brutality than any technical concerns in its visual craft or its debt to stories told onscreen in the past. It’s entirely enjoyable for being just that, completely divorced from the expectations set by its most immediate comparison points.

My favorite detail in the entirety of the original Super Fly is a shot of the slick-haired anti-hero Priest laughing maniacally in the mirror while cash surreally rains down on him from the ceiling. The modern SuperFly adopts that surreal excess of wealth at feature-length, sending Nu Priest through a neon-lit labyrinth of underground-Atlanta party scenes (not too different from the Georgian strip club palace featured in Magic Mike XXL) where money rains from the heavens in a constant, steady trickle. Some of Priest’s moral ambiguity as an antihero is missing from the original as he’s shown to be an intelligent, deeply kind man well-respected in his community (of drug dealers & hustlers). His intimate, long-running familiarity with the streets he serves makes him successful beyond belief, so much so that even rival drug dealers have no desire to bully him out of the business. This wealth-showered reverie is interrupted by a drunken fight outside a nightclub that shakes Priest so much that he wants to pull off a big enough score to get out of the game for good. Of course, going big makes him much more conspicuous to a wide range of people invested in him staying exactly where he’s at in the drug-dealing hierarchy, as well as people who wish to exploit his newfound kingpin status. Suddenly, a well-loved, low-level drug pusher finds himself dangerously in conflict with everyone around him: his mentor (Michael K Williams), his suppliers, his two polyamorous girlfriends, crooked white cops, a rival gang that dresses in all-white and calls themselves Snow Patrol, etc. Because Priest is the sharpest mind in the game, however, the joy of the film is largely in watching him puzzle his way out of those individual binds as the walls close in on him from all sides and money continues to rain down with increasing menace. Successfully getting out of drug dealing alive seems more impossible by the minute, but he’s always an easy hero to root for, something that feels remarkably different from the 1972 original.

Whatever SuperFly might be missing in visual craft, taste, or tact, it easily makes up for in its willingness to be a little cheesy, a little sleazy, and more than a little greasy. Priest tends to pontificate in voice-over, seemingly even when he’s talking to other characters in lines like “All the power in the world never stopped a bullet; no car can outrun Fate,” & “God is all-knowing and that’s what makes him scary as shit.” These philosophical ponderings clash wonderfully with the film’s over-indulgences in gratuitous nudity & bullet-riddled hyperviolence. A sensual threesome in a shower extends into pure softcore titillation for minutes of tangential excess. Stage blood squibs explode in great bursts of automatic gunfire spectacle. The movie is also admirable in reaching just beyond its means in more action-heavy set pieces, leaving a trail of blood, explosions, and naked breasts all over the city of Atlanta. The Atlantan drug-dealing & strip club scene is more than just a convenient visual backdrop here. Future (the film’s producer and one of the “elder” statesmen of trap music) soundtracks its nighttime Atlanta drives with the exact sounds you’d likely hear pouring out of car windows in recent years (give or take a Migos update). OutKast’s Big Boi represents Atlanta’s hip-hop past as a preacherly mayoral figure who runs just as much game as Priest, just in a different arena. SuperFly also does right by its context as a continuation of a blaxploitation cinema past, incorporating the martial arts obsessions shared by titans of the genre like the Original Priest and Dolemite. The jujitsu choreography is much more convincingly staged here than the genre’s Kung-Fu ever was in the 1970s, though, landing with bone-crunching thuds that match the lethal violence of its many, many gunshots. The eternally naked strippers, over-the-top hyperviolence, and ungodly piles of cash that provide SuperFly its tonal foundation all feel at home with its Atlantan hip-hop & vintage blaxploitation influences. The only thing that’s really changed is the haute fashion update, wonderfully so.

Early in SuperFly, there’s a scene set in a Chinese restaurant that reminded me so much of the Migos video for “Stir Fry” that I had to check to make sure Director X didn’t also film that one himself. No matter how distracting the cheapness of its digi-cinematography could be in spectacle set pieces that admirably reach just beyond the film’s resources, I was consistently aware throughout that X had captured a very particular, current moment in black crime pop culture media. That’s the exact accomplishment that made Belly & the original Super Fly remarkable in their own respective eras. I had a lot of fun with this continuation of those traditions once I let go of its debt to past works and accepted its own merits as over-the-top action cheapie excess with a nice soundtrack, cool clothes, and neon cross-lighting. That’s more than most modern remakes offer, even the ones with 10x SuperFly’s budget.

-Brandon Ledet

Patti Cake$ (2017)

I remember thinking last year’s indie darling Sing Street (which celebrates the joy of watching a young new wave band come into their own in 1980s Dublin) was cute & mostly enjoyable, but 2017 has already offered two cheaply-made features that improve on its basic formula. The darkly funny romantic dramedy Band Aid juxtaposes the joys of watching a garage band come together with the tragedy of a marriage falling apart, adding a sense of purpose to the songwriting missing in Sing Street’s dedication to nostalgic pastiche. Patti Cake$, by contrast, sticks much closer to Sing Street’s recipe, a rags to slightly-nicer-rags story where a young pop music act struggles to gain the confidence in their own voice they can only experience in their music video daydreams. The difference for me is that Patti Cake$ steers this narrative towards a much more satisfying emotional climax and happens to frame its setting in a world I can much more readily identify with. Its tale of misfit nerds trying to leave their mark on a behind the times, low stakes New Jersey rap scene feels specifically geared to remind me of Coming of Age in my own shitty industrial suburb (Chalmette is pretty much a New Orleans-scale Jersey) when nu metal and Ca$h Money were a huge deal. It even includes an out of nowhere Bikini Kill needle drop plucked directly from my personal high school soundtrack just to drive the last nail in the coffin. It’s a celebratory music scene fairy tale version of a life I’ve already lived, which makes Sing Street’s coming of age romance feel increasingly hollow in the rearview.

The titular Patti Cake$, aka Killer P, aka Patricia (breakout actor Danielle Macdonald), is an aspiring white girl rapper whose service industry jobs (bartending at a karaoke dive bar & picking up extra cash catering) are far from the pop star excess she longs for in her music video-inspired daydreams. She hopes to be signed one day by local rap legend Oz, who appears to be half A$AP Rocky/half wizard, but doesn’t have the confidence to even challenge the Vanilla Ice-flavored EDM idiots who stage concert at the local VFW halls. Her addict mother (Lady Dynamite‘s Bridget Everett) knocks her down for not having a talent for “real” music, unlike her own past of fronting a hair metal band in the 80s. Neighborhood bullies insult her from all sides for being overweight before even hearing what she has to say. Rap game rivals & idols, including the all-powerful Oz, tell her she has no business even trying to make it, that she should just stick to her service industry purgatory. Still, she hones her skills at writing bars around the clock, rapping while she’s brushing her teeth, pissing, and preparing the morning’s Pop Tarts. Eventually, she finds her own scarecrow & tin woodsman (a nerdy pharmacist hype man & a goth version of Nell with a shack full of expensive beat-making equipment) to follow the mixtape road to success with her, despite the constant flood of reasons to quit. The speed bumps along the way are undeniably cliché (including a subplot about her mother’s jealousy so old hat it was spoofed on a Strangers With Candy episode nearly two decades ago), but feed into the film’s charms as an old fashioned fairy tale. By the time the Hero’s Journey concludes with a climactic concert and an alternate path to (minor) success, the cumulative effect is awe-inspiringly great. We’re all rooting for Patti Cake$.

Director Geremy Jasper’s debut feature is impressive not only in its parallel-thinking improvements on the Sing Street formula, but also in its infectious sense of style. Patti Cake$‘s slightly heightened sense of reality feels like a Ca$h Money album cover adapted to a feature length fairy tale. It’s less of the ramshackle 8 Mile it’s been marketed as than it is a surreal comedy that clashes the green smoke & bubble bath fantasy of rap videos against the strip mall & cigarette butts reality of industrial suburbs for relatable, darkly humorous effect. It’s like a hip-hop version of Drop Dead Gorgeous in that way, especially in scenes where it undercuts its small scale triumphs with the visible awkwardness of details like fumbling, nerdy sex and celebratory mozzarella sticks. Everyone in the film, from the rebellious go-nowhere twentysomethings to their bitter went-nowhere authority figures, feels as if they’re permanently stuck in the summer after high school graduation, rotting in a stasis of indecision & dwindling opportunities. Some of the details of this world are very specific to New Jersey, including a real life Cookie Puss, but a lot of it applies to every small town industrial suburb in the US. If Patti Cake$ were set in the Midwest, it’d likely be a Juggalo story. If it were set in Chalmette, Louisiana, its nu metal moment in the VFW Hall (featuring an industrial metal song with the lyrics “You’re sheep! Wake up!”) would’ve commanded the entire feature. If it were set in Dublin, well, I feel like I’ve already seen that movie. Patti Cake$’s Jersey rap scene setting isn’t essential to its storytelling, as hinted at by the cycle started by the mother character’s hair metal past, but it does afford the film a striking sense of cheap-to-produce visual imagery that helps distinguish its supernatural fairy tale tone. What’s much more important is the way the film succeeds in making that fairy tale feel freshly funny & emotionally satisfying, despite its overriding sense of familiarity.

-Brandon Ledet

Movie of the Month: Cool As Ice (1991)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandon made Boomer, Britnee, and Alli watch Cool as Ice (1991).

Brandon:  “I do believe motion pictures are the significant art form of their time. And I think the main reason is they’re an art form of movement, as opposed to the static art forms of previous times. But another reason that they’re the preeminent art form is that they’re part art and part business. They are a compromised art form, and we live in a somewhat compromised time. And I do believe to be successful over the long run, unless you’re a Frederico Fellini or an Ingmar Bergman or a true genius in filmmaking, you have to understand that you’re working in both an art and a business.” – Roger Corman

I return to that Corman quote more often than any other summation of what cinema signifies & achieves as an artform. It’s even more insightful to me than Roger Ebert’s often-quoted pearl of wisdom about how the movies are “a machine that generates empathy,” because it better takes in the full spectrum of film as both a force for good and a force for commerce. Something that’s especially interesting to me about cinema’s nature as a “compromised” art form is that it’s more or less required to mask the fact that it’s partially a business, hiding its desperate need for profit from its potential customers. As Corman points out, not every filmmaker is a Bergman or a Fellini, so the main goal of most films produced in the annual cinematic cycle is to make enough money so that producers can, in turn, make more movies the next go-round. They’re not supposed to show their hand while doing so, however, and most audiences prefer to maintain the illusion that their entertainment was produced solely to tell a good story or provide a good time or achieve some kind of transcendent artistic ambition, not to make a quick buck. What’s always fascinating to me is when that illusion completely breaks down and the “art” of cinema is nakedly exposed as a simultaneously commercial enterprise. Titles like Space Jam (where the cash-in conscious brand mashup of Looney Tunes & Michael Jordan™ are injected with a wealth of unwarranted, but marketable 90s Attitude) and Mac & Me (where E.T. was shamelessly ripped off to promote a wide range of Coca-Cola & McDonalds products) make for an absurdist, deliriously silly confession of guilt where filmmaking is exposed as the compromised art form that it truly is. The Vanilla Ice vehicle Cool as Ice, produced at the heights of the white boy rapper’s marketability as a flash-in-the-pan novelty, is one such film, a nakedly honest admission to its own nature as a cynical cash grab. What’s most surprising about Cool as Ice and what makes it a memorable watch, though, is how well it fulfills cinema’s other defining function: art.

Structured as a “rap-oriented” remake of the early Marlon Brando classic The Wild OneCool as Ice finds its titular star and “Ice Ice Baby” singer stranded in a small town in Everywhere, America. His big city looks (including a leather jacket that exclaims things like “SEX!” & “YEP!” in gigantic block letters and the loudest pairs of pants this side of MC Hammer), flashy motorcycle antics, and massive overdose of hip hop flavor make him & his crew (a conspicuously black entourage that provides him visual street cred among an endless sea of white faces) out to be a target for wild accusations in the small town they unintentionally invade. While waiting for one of his buddies’ motorcycles to be repaired at a Pee-wee’s Playhouse style garage described by the soundtrack to be a literal Limbo, Ice’s protagonist, Johnny, strikes up a budding romance with the Girl Next Door and gets blamed for a string of local crimes he had nothing to do with based solely on his outlandish appearance. Unlike a young Marlon Brando, Vanilla Ice is not exactly oozing with potent sexuality & onscreen charisma. When asked to deliver raw machismo in lines like, “Words of wisdom: drop that zero and get with the hero,” he mumbles his way through the readings as if he were rehearsing them for the first time. He is, however, in his own strange way, a beautiful specimen, an object that can be easily commodified. Like a wind-up toy idly waiting on the shelf for its opportunity to entertain, Vanilla Ice mostly exists as a fascinating image, a collection of 90s fashion quirks & excellent bone structure that only comes alive when he’s prompted to do the one thing he was built for: sing & dance. He’s a talent in both regards, even if his skill set is a time capsule of a bygone era, and the movie doesn’t ask much more from him than to wait his turn until it’s time to pull his string to perform another song. Cool as Ice boils down its titular star to his most basic essence: a product.

Just because Cool as Ice is a cheap cash-in doesn’t mean it’s a lazy cash-in. Artfully shot by cinematographer Janusz Kazinski, who has since made a name for himself as a longtime collaborator with Stephen Spielberg, Cool as Ice often plays like an alternate dimension where Terrence Malick directs feature-length breakfast cereal commercials. Although a cartoonishly inane crime thriller, love story melodrama, and half-assed comedy about a doomed romance between a bad boy rapper and a spoiled Daddy’s girl, Cool as Ice is just absolutely gorgeous to behold. Gay 90s club music (not unlike the soundtrack to recent Movie of the Month Head Over Heels) pulsates while luscious camera work and over the top set design flood the screen with a meticulous craft in imagery the movie doesn’t deserve, given its pedigree: Malickian breeze blowing through tall grass, lightbulb microphones lifted from the “In Dreams” sequence of Blue Velvet, long lines of glowing globes spinning in the moonlight. In one especially stunning sequence, Vanilla Ice takes his Girl Next Door love interest (sporting a downright iconic sunflower sundress) on a daylong bike ride through the desert sands & a nearby construction site in what I’d genuinely consider one of the most visually pleasing and oddly sensual two minute stretches of pure cinema bliss I’ve ever witnessed. Given that director David Kellogg’s resume mostly consisted of “video documentaries” for Playboy until that point, I’m willing to attribute that beauty & awe entirely to Kazinski’s eye (speaking of the intersection of art & commerce). Still, it’s interesting that so much careful attention to visual craft would sneak its way into a movie that mainly exists to strike while the iron’s hot on a one hit wonder pop star. And since the movie failed as a business decision, only making a sixth of its budget back at the box office, all that’s really left to chew on at this point is its novelty as a pop culture time capsule and the artful flourishes Kazinski was able to sneak onscreen. I’d say both of these elements hold up in a 2010s context and together do a fairly decent job of being honest about the movie industry’s compromised existence as both an art and a business.

Britnee, how hyperbolic am I being in praise of Cool as Ice as an art object? Do the visuals of its summertime bike ride sequence and Limbo Garage production design actually achieve an artful aesthetic or is the film solely enjoyable for its “so bad it’s good” charms as an expensive, feature-length advertisement for Vanilla Ice, like an extended music video relic? I’m curious to know your thoughts on how the film balances art & commerce.

Britnee: I do agree that Cool as Ice is a beautiful work of art, as completely bonkers as it may sound. The fun house style camera angles, the vibrant neon colors (clothing, background, motorcycles, etc.), the fast-forward sequences that incorporate 90s hip-hop beats are just a few things that make Cool as Ice a visual treat. As Brandon mentioned, the bike ride and Limbo Garage are some of the most artistic elements in the movie, especially the Limbo Garage. Every scene that took place in the Limbo Garage was almost like stepping into another world, maybe even another movie? The garage owners, Roscoe and Mae (Blanche from Grease), act like they’re aliens disguised as humans, and that somehow really adds to the artistic flair of the garage. Their blank stares and eccentric attitudes were sort of chilling, and their ultra funky home seemed so out of place in such a white-bread town. Also, let’s not forget about the insane sandwiches the bike gang members made while in the house. Was it their personal choice to put sardines and peanut butter on a sandwich or were they under some sort of extraterrestrial spell? It’s all just so mysterious, and I love it.

As for the bike ride/construction zone love sequence, it was visually stunning, but it leaned more toward being “so bad it’s good.” Vanilla Ice popping out of unfinished walls with a childlike smile was way over the top. However, I did love the shots of the two lovebirds riding through the desert on his sweet bike while the sun was setting in the background. It was all very Purple Rain. This was the moment in the film where we should have been able to get a better glimpse into Johnny’s life. Kathy began to ask him personal questions before they started hopping over pieces of wood, but he never gave her any answers, only his signature “Yep, yep.” This scene, much like the rest of the movie, was more about the visuals instead of the story itself, and that’s not really a bad thing.

Cool as Ice was ultimately a film made to capitalize off one-hit-wonder Vanilla Ice, but in all honesty, I did not feel like the movie was trying to sell me Vanilla Ice. The incorporation of Vanilla Ice’s musical talent in real-life scenarios was surprisingly tastefully done. Yes, it’s terrible early 90s white boy rap, but his flow is pretty amazing. The film opens up with a club scene which is basically a Vanilla Ice video that incorporates Naomi Campbell’s lip syncing (I think?), but the rest of the movie, thankfully, strays away from that music video style. The next time Vanilla Ice, a.k.a. Johnny, gets a chance to show off his mad rhymes is at a teen hangout called The Sugar Shack. The performance was pretty great and sort of romantic, even though Johnny basically dry humps Kathy on The Sugar Shack’s floor. It’s so terrible, but it truly seemed like the two had a strong connection after that moment. Kathy, much like myself, was officially “Iced.”

I really enjoyed Vanilla Ice’s performance as Johnny. His acting reminded me of the kind of stuff you would find in an art house film. The way he recites his lines is so poetic and he exudes confidence. Personally, I would love to see him in another lead role because he knows how to own the screen.

Alli, were you at all impressed with Vanilla Ice’s acting skills? What other genre of movie would you like to see him act in?

Alli: More than anything else, I was actually really blown away by his dance moves, which I wasn’t aware he had somehow. I guess that one sequence in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 didn’t prepare me. Acting wise, I wasn’t really impressed with anyone in this movie. However, in this cast, he was a gem.  He carried the role of the star very strongly, even stealing away attention from the ridiculous production design. His absurd balance of white boy rapper swagger and romance movie heroics somehow works. There’s no real explaining why, other than I think he’s given a lot of good (or bad, depending on how much of a grouch you are) material to work with. “If you ain’t true to yourself then you ain’t true to nobody. Live your life for someone else, you ain’t living,” is a real stand out line for instance. The showmanship of it all just comes so easily and naturally to him, which probably explains how he was even popular in the first place.

If I had to see him in a different genre of movie, I guess I would have to go with a road trip buddy movie. I’m thinking Crossroads, except replace Britney Spears with Vanilla Ice.  He’s got that hip, laid back style, but can play the troubled bad boy as well. Just find a couple of equally nuanced and ridiculous 90’s dudes and you’ve got a hit on your hands. They could teach each other life lessons and dance moves, as they try to find themselves and the American Dream. Pun totally intended here, I think something like that would have been the perfect vehicle for him.

The Wild One was also prime for him, though. Of course Brando and V-Ice play the troubled, bad boy Johnny in different ways and Cool as Ice‘s plot quickly jumps off the rails, but I think it was a good fit. Both movies and actors play up teen crazes and parental anxieties. The Wild One, with its leather jackets, hip jazz music, and wild hats, is a movie all about style, which is something I know Vanilla Ice to also be about.

Boomer, what did you think of Vanilla Ice and his crew’s fashion? Was it a beautiful early 90’s/late 80’s hip hop time capsule or a horrifying mess that you can’t believe you watched an hour and a half of?

Boomer: The fashion was certainly atrocious at points, but it worked for me in the context of this movie. Cool as Ice is even more of a cartoon than the similarly named Cool World which followed a year later. In fact, the moment that solidified my surrender to the absurdity of the film was when the two hapless goons stopped in the middle of a sandy waste to review their map, and the sound that accompanies the taller of the two pulling his gun from his waistband is the basic cork/rubber popping sound that you can hear in animated stuff going back to Looney Tunes. It was essentially the same experience I had when I saw God Help the Girl for the first time and just absolutely hated it, until I surrendered to that film’s tweeness and accepted it for what it was, then ended up falling in love.

I’m not saying I fell in love with Cool as Ice, but I was certainly willing to overlook a good many of its flaws the more I allowed myself to be carried away by its unwavering devotion to being as aesthetically and narratively discomfiting as possible. From the way that the featureless scenery of the unnamed small town and its surrounding areas are treated like beautiful vistas by the cinematic eye, to the stylistically indulgent music video-esque speed-ups and musical accompaniment when Kat’s family is preparing dinner, there’s a distinctly tongue-in-cheek animated quality to Cool as Ice that caused me, against my better judgment, to make allowances for the portraits in sartorial horror that float through the film. Perhaps that innate zaniness is why the director’s only other feature, the awful Matthew Broderick Inspector Gadget, was (slightly) better received.

That having been said, that doesn’t mean that the, erm, fashion in the film gets a complete pass. It’s mind-boggling to me that not only does Johnny own not only one, but two pairs of short overalls; one of them is black with white stripes and one is black with blue stripes, and both are worn with the bib down and the straps hanging on his sides. Worse still, both pairs have the word “ice” stitched into the bib, meaning that they are (a) intended to be worn this way, since the word is printed to be read by others, and (b) these are presumably part of Vanilla Ice’s personal wardrobe, not just Johnny’s, since “ice” is only part of his catchphrase in the film, not his name. On the other hand, the times when he is wearing this less eye-catching apparel are not as bothersome as some of his other outfits. I absolutely hated the eye-searing harlequin pants in the first scene, but when they made their reappearance in the final musical sequence, it was a welcome relief after the film’s most heinous vestiary crime: that awful skull cap that Johnny wore at the very top of his head like Parappa the Rapper. I was willing to forgive a multitude of sins based on how bizarre this movie was, but not that hat. All of that having been said, aside from Kat’s timelessly simply dresses, all of the outfits in this movie are ridiculous, so it’s not just Ice’s personal flair that we’re seeing take the wheel here.

Of all the things that can be easily mocked about Cool as Ice, Kristin Minter’s performance is not among them. Most of the cast seems to be made up of amateur actors (not counting Michael Gross, last seen hereabouts in previous Movie of the Month Big Business, and he seems to be sleepwalking through this film), but Minter turns in a pretty solid performance, with surprising pathos. It’s a shame to think that her career hinged on the critical and financial success of this film, which never materialized. What do you think, Brandon? If Minter managed to sell her performance in this movie, why hasn’t she managed to have a more successful career?

Brandon: I totally back the praise for Kristin Minter’s performance as Kathy. Minter’s tasked with a fairly thankless, almost impossible dual duty of both existing as a blank slate so that teen girls in the audience can daydream of being in her place next to the supposedly hunky Johnny and making Johnny appear hunky in the first place. She is the literal Girl Next Door in the film, with her only defining characteristics being that she’s college bound & rides horses. In a hilarious touch of production design, the film even emphasizes this personality void by prominently hanging a framed blank sheet of white paper over her bed. Minter’s physicality and genuine mix of intelligence & sweetness makes Kathy feel like a real human being against these odds, however, which even better served her role as an audience surrogate. The actor has continually worked since the 90s, but besides a role as one of the McAllisters in Home Alone, it seems she mostly appears in single episode runs on various television series. Cool as Ice was clearly her time to break out & grab attention and I’d agree she did so admirably. My best guess as to why that didn’t lead to wider success is timing. Minter bears a striking resemblance to early 90s Lara Flynn Boyle in Cool as Ice, which was released concurrently with Boyle’s run as Donna on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks series. If anyone was specifically looking to cast Minter’s type at the time, I suppose they’d be more likely to look to the actor who worked with Lynch instead of the one who worked with Vanilla Ice. That’s all speculation, of course, but when I gaze at the glory of the Cool as Ice poster (as I often do, thanks to the hilariously puzzling tagline “When a girl has a heart of stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add ice.”) all I see is Donna Hayward waiting to straddle the back of a white rapper’s motorcycle (which is somehow still a step up from James’s motorcycle).

Part of what’s so refreshing about Minter’s presence in the film is that she’s surrounded by so many mediocre, bitter men. Kathy’s father, the sleepwalking Michael Gross, allows his dark past to interfere with his daughter’s summertime fun & romance. The boyfriend Kathy leaves for Johnny is an alpha male shithead who slut-shames her in public for dancing with another man and obnoxiously threatens her life with drunk driving recklessness. Just about the only male character who isn’t a total monster in some way is Kathy’s kid brother, who serves as an audience surrogate for the demographic of potential Vanilla Ice fans who aren’t horny teenage girls: young children who look up to the rapper for being so cool. It’s entirely up to Minter (and Ice’s wardrobe) to sell that cool factor on Ice’s behalf, since a lot of Johnny’s actions read as bullheaded machismo. In the couple’s initial meet cute, Johnny shows off by jumping his motorcycle over a fence, scaring Kathy off the back of her horse in what could have been a paralyzing or even life-threatening fall. As payback, she kicks him in the balls. Johnny also steals Kathy’s personal property so that she’ll be obligated to talk to him again, shamelessly flirts with her in front of her boyfriend despite her obvious disinterest, and frequently sneaks into her bedroom window, uninvited, while she’s either asleep or not at home. In the film’s strangest moment (which is no small distinction) Johnny climbs into Kathy’s bed while she is sleeping and wakes her up by seductively sliding an ice cube between her lips. The frost on her breath is filmed beautifully as it rises in the early morning sunshine and the audience is left to stew in the creepiness of the moment for what feels like an eternity. Thankfully, Kathy is more turned on than creeped out and that scene leads directly to the construction site sequence I love so much. Vanilla Ice’s sex appeal can only be conveyed through so much wardrobe, dancing, and sunlit shirtlessness, so we rely on Kathy’s screen presence to sell us on its potency. She really does save the movie from just being a miserable parade of overly macho scoundrels.

Speaking of motorcycle straddling and ice cube sucking, teen horniness plays an alarmingly large role in this PG film about a white rapper and a small town kidnapping plot. It’s even been reported that a young Gwyneth Paltrow was offered the role as Kathy, but her parents made her turn it down because of the sexualized content. Britnee, you already mentioned Johnny dry humping Kathy on the Sugar Shack dancefloor. What are your thoughts on the way teenage sex & romance are handled in the film overall?

Britnee: I had no idea that this was a PG rated film. The ice cube bedroom scene alone is enough to get this film at least a PG-13 rating. Cool as Ice somehow manages to incorporate teen sexuality without making it too over-the-top. Kathy has a slight sexual awakening on the Sugar Shack dance floor, but nothing is really that hot and heavy after that. The film is trying to be sexy enough to attract horny teens to theaters, but at the same time, it’s trying to keep the main focus on Vanilla Ice’s dancing and rapping. For instance, the infamous ice cube scene could have gone much further than it actually did. Vanilla Ice is fully clothed in her bed (shoes and all) when lying beside her, while she’s fully clothed as well. This was definitely an opportunity for a sex scene, but it seems like it was intentionally avoided. Her little brother walks in on the two and asks if they were having sex, so it seems like that was done to keep the film’s sexiness on the quirky side to keep that PG rating.

Other than the surprising lack of sex scenes in Cool as Ice, I was very surprised to find that Vanilla Ice only had a few musical moments. He only raps about 3 or 4 times, and it just didn’t feel like it was enough for a film that’s supposed to be a hip-hop musical. I wanted to hear more of Vanilla Ice’s sick rhymes, so maybe this is just me being selfish. There were a couple of funky 90’s club songs thrown in here and there, and they took away opportunities for us to have more Ice.

Alli, did you find the relative lack of actual Vanilla Ice music to be strange? Do you think a love scene between Ice and Kathy that involves a rap serenade would have done well in this movie?

Alli: I did find that for something that seems so much like a vanity project there was a distinct lack of self promotion as far as music goes, but I’m glad he didn’t cram this movie with as much “Ice Ice Baby” as possible. I think that’s part of the reason why it transcends from weird vanity project to cult film art. While I’m glad his performance/seduction on the dance floor didn’t feel too, too forced, I actually would have really liked a delicate, free style serenade in the middle of that McMansion construction project (maybe a premonition of his current work on the DIY channel as a house remodeling wise guy). When they were just romping around in the emptiness would have been the perfect time to try to sell him more as a tender, troubled hunk, a role I just wasn’t buying. Overall though, yeah, I would have liked some more of his jams. I think the lack of Ice-related tunes just called more attention to everyone’s acting, and the bizarre muddled mess of a plot.

I didn’t really understand the whole crooked cop thing. Is this supposed to be a movie full of crime and intrigue or is it a teenage love story? I don’t even think anybody working on it knew for sure. I know we’ve talked about some of the similarities between Head Over Heels and Cool As Ice as far as the 90’s club jams, but I think they also have this crime narrative that happens somewhat out of nowhere that kind of hijacks the movie.

Boomer, do you think the father’s side plot took away too much attention from the love story?

Boomer: The side plot with the father’s past coming back to haunt him certainly seems to come out of nowhere, and is easily one of the least sensible elements in a film that’s already treads very close to nonsense, especially given that it’s instigated by his own foolishness. I mean, seriously, if you’re in witness protection, why on earth would you allow yourself to be filmed for a sound bite, even if it’s supposedly local? That aside, it does introduce the only real conflict in the film other than the fighting between Johnny and Katherine’s (ex)boyfriend, which is pretty tension-free after we see that Johnny alone is capable of fighting off a bunch of cornfed country boys single-handedly. Given that there’s not much other action taking place, there’s no real other way for Johnny to prove himself to Katherine’s family other than saving her little brother, but it still seems like a job that should have been left for the FBI (or whomever is in charge of the witness protection program in this bizarre universe), rather than a random rapping hottie with as much personality as an album cover.

Overall, the crime plot is the only element of the film that elevates it out of what would otherwise have been only nominally a plot. Without it, there’s not much in the way of conflict, nonsensical though it may be. It also gives the sleepwalking Gross something to do in the film, given that he’s the only real star here. I also liked the way that the two revenge-seekers were both somewhat bumbling and also credibly threatening. To go back to the above mention of Minter’s role as one of the McAllisters in Home Alone, they reminded me of the Wet Bandits from that film, in that they’re comically inept but still utterly capable of violence, as indicated when they kidnap Katherine’s younger brother. Her boyfriend is undoubtedly a “zero,” but without something to do other than stand majestically on his motorcycle in a romper, Johnny’s not much of a “hero” until the (ridiculous) rescue that serves as the meager climax of the movie. This centerpiece and the plot snags that lead up to it may seem tacked on, but without it, there’s even less of a film that what we end up with.

Lagniappe

Brandon: It seems that Vanilla Ice’s entire career has been defined by overcoming his early status as a one-hit-wonder. Ever since “Ice Ice Baby” made him a star, Ice has been struggling to reinvent himself. When gangsta rap changed the industry, he released the single “Roll Em Up,” refashioning ​himself as a hard-as-fuck street tough. When Limp Bizkit popularized rap metal, he reimagined his sole hit single as the would-be nu metal anthem “Too Cold.” In more recent years, he’s found his most appropriate home yet on reality television, where being a flash in the pan novelty act is a godsend, not a handicap. Cool as Ice is an obvious choice to me as the best of Vanilla Ice’s cynical cash grabs since his star prematurely rose and fell with his first album. It turned his blatant commercialism into pure artistic expression and an exaggerated cultural time capsule that only gets better as the years roll on, like so many motorcycles riding until dawn. That virtue entirely rests on cinema’s unique crossroads of art & commerce. If the movie has one major fault it’s that it didn’t lean into its obvious status as a commercially-minded novelty even further to conclude with a performance of “Ice Ice Baby,” which is nowhere to be found on its soundtrack. That would’ve been the icing on the cake.

Alli: I really, really would have liked more info about that Pee Wee’s Playhouse garage. It’s out of nowhere. I know Roscoe and Mae are eccentric, yet awkward geniuses, but as said above even for this universe they’re strange. Also, this house and garage are supposed to be a literal Limbo, but between what? Is the world Johnny and his friends came from in some sort of chaos? What did they go through before happening upon this innocent town?

Boomer: I also love the art design of this movie. When mentioning to a friend that I had just watched Cool As Ice, he asked if he was misremembering the film in that he remembered one location as consisting of nothing but colors and shapes, which I was happy to point out was an actual set on this film. My favorite bits were the globes and doors out front, as well as the ludicrously sized salt shakers that at first seem like a perspective trick but ended up being a gag. So fun.

Britnee: I wish Naomi Campbell had a bigger part in this movie that just a small lip sync scene in the film’s opening. She should’ve been part of the motorcycle crew! Even though I know that wish will never come true, I love the hell out of this movie.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
July: Britnee presents Something Wicked this Way Comes (1983)
August: Boomer presents The Psychic (1977)
September: Alli presents Schizopolis (1996)

-The Swampflix Crew

Fresh Dressed (2015)

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fourstar

I can’t say with full honesty that I know enough about fashion to truly weigh in on a documentary on the subject, but I have enjoyed a few films like Iris & Paris is Burning that touch on the genre. Fresh Dressed was a little more of an easy entry point for me than those examples (although not nearly as spellbinding as the beyond-reproach Paris is Burning) because it approaches fashion from a pop music perspective. Chronicling the evolution of where fashion fits in as an integral element of hip hop culture, Fresh Dressed is simultaneously a fun nostalgia trip through bygone eras of oldschool rap (not unlike Ed Piskor’s brilliant Hip Hop Family Tree comic book series) and a necessary history lesson in the evolution of modern black identity as expressed artistically through clothing. The documentary has the distinct feeling of giving credit where it’s due, finally exalting a subject that would’ve casually been brushed off as frivolity in the past & spotlighting some of the underserved artists who have been long forgotten as cultural pioneers.

Fresh Dressed establishes a solid foundational layer by beginning its story long before hip hop was even a concept. Mapping out how the pristinely immaculate church clothes of even the poorest of America’s black communities would later be reflected in the flashy garb of jazz & blues singers, Fresh Dressed logically explains the history of fashion as a prime component of modern black identity. Hip hop is explained as a starting point where black fashion took on a D.I.Y. punk context, openly rebelling against the cops & whites that conspired against black people, especially the youth, through institutionalized oppression. Biker fashion, gang insignia, black pride militarization, and external displays of pride in personal wealth all complicated & varied the boundaries of what hip hop fashion could mean as well as what it could look like. At a certain point in time you could tell what neighborhood a person was from (in NYC, obv) based on what they were wearing, but things got much more disparate & more interesting from there and watching a culture develop through the hallmarks of its clothing is a lot of what makes Fresh Dressed a delight.

Documentaries like this often live or die by the strength of their talking head interviewees and Fresh Dressed indeed has a stacked deck of willing participants: Kanye West, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, Pharell, etc. There’s also a wealth of great photographs, video clips and (duh) music to back up its fashion retrospective narrative, making the film a fun ride while still an informative one. Fresh Dressed doesn’t have the same temporal advantage of films like the similarly-minded graffiti doc Style Wars, as it’s documenting a movement & a subset of oral history interview subjects long after their heyday, requiring it to rely on archival footage & word of mouth to construct its narrative. As the story develops, the film also loses a little steam as hip hop fashion loses its credibility as a D.I.Y. punk aesthetic and becomes a marketable big business commodity. It’s worth noting, too, that its narrow focus on heterosexual male fashion in the hip hop community often treats female & queer perspectives as an afterthought, which is a shame given those groups’ contributions to fashion innovation over the decades. All that considered, Fresh Dressed is still a wonderful history lesson in a topic that’s rarely treated with the level of respect it deserves. At the very least the film is a museum in motion, with nearly every document of hip hop fashion’s past just aching to be screengrabbed & converted into Tumblr posts. There are certainly less worthy modes of fashion documentation than that.

-Brandon Ledet

Da Hip Hop Witch (2000)

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halfstar

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When Britnee & I used to work together in New Orleans East, she once gently pressured me into taking a couple DVDs out of the trunk of her car that even she couldn’t stomach, despite typically having a much stronger fortitude than I do when it comes to total shit cinema. One of those putrid slices of schlock was Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, a movie so amateur that I had a hard time convincing myself that it was an actual, legitimate feature film & not some 80s punks’ super 8 home movies. The other was Da Hip Hop Witch, which I am sad to report is most certainly not a legitimate feature. It is, without question, a home movie (this time filmed on a camcorder instead of a super 8 camera). It just happens to be a home movie that features a long list of famous (and not-so-famous) rappers. Even accounting for the “film”‘s straight-to-DVD cheapness, it’s difficult to pull any entertainment value from Da Hip Hop Witch, except maybe from the schadenfreude of watching Eminem embarrass himself.

Because it is the sole moment of genuinely entertaining content in the movie, I’m going to transcribe here the entirety of Da Hip Hop Witch‘s prologue: “In December 1989, in the Newark Projects, there were a series of unsolved attacks and one murder. Residents claimed that it was an angry spirit, who became known as ‘The Black Witch of the Projects’. Ten years later, the attacks began again. This time, occurring in every inner city project on the East Coast and targeting every Rap star in the Hip Hop scene. An aspiring reporter determined to find out the truth and five white kids & a pug from the suburbs were determined to become famous for capturing Da Hip Hop Witch.” I promise that passage is much more fun than a proper plot synopsis would be. The only other chuckle-worthy bit of text in the film is the line, “Yo, check it! This is Salem, Massachusetts. You know, the place the witches are from?” Dear God. That about sums it up for the film’s enjoyable dialogue. For the other 90 minutes of runtime you’re pretty much left to fend for yourself.

If you haven’t yet guessed based on the film’s title, release date, or the phrase “The Black Witch of the Projects” in the prologue, Da Hip Hop Witch is a found footage Blair Witch Project spoof. Just by genre alone, the movie may already sound lazy to the uninitiated, but I swear it gets worse from there. More than half of the film’s runtime consists of staged street interviews in which famous rappers call the titular witch a bunch of names, coming off a lot like foul-mouthed schoolyard bullies. Imagine Eminem, Pras, Mobb Deep, Vanilla Ice, Ja Rule, and (for reasons unknown) graduation dances staple Vitamin C mumbling things like “That fucking bitch,” and “I was like, oh my God, what is up with this fucking bitch?” and you pretty much get the gist of what the film has to offer. To keep up the appearance that it has some sort of narrative structure, there are some non-Hip Hop Witch TV (as the interviews are dubbed in the film) storylines involving some late 90s, dreds-rocking, white hip hop kids & an investigative journalist all attempting to prove that Da Hip Hop Witch is a hoax created to sell records & garner buzz. Unfortunately, Da Hip Hop Witch is very real, and so is this piece of shit movie.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Da Hip Hop Witch is that it wastes a pretty killer title. I like the decades-late idea of a blaxploitation horror comedy like Blackenstein or Blacula (those are real movies, in case you’re wondering) updated for the late 90s/early 00s era. Besides the prologue & a laughably bad, Russ Meyer-esque tour of Salem’s street signs, though, the only value the film brings to the world is in embarrassing Eminem, as mentioned earlier. According to some reports, the blowhard, dickhole rapper’s lawyers attempted, but failed, to have his part removed from the film entirely & also tried to completely block the film’s distribution. A lot of the dialogue in Da Hip Hop Witch ranges from the misogynistic (women are feared & ridiculed because they might be the witch) to the transphobic (there’s a whole lot of “She looks like a man!” bullshit), but Eminem’s street interviews are are particularly cringe-worthy as they go on & on about how the witch tried to finger him. He just endlessly rambles about the witch’s “basketball fingers” and his own precious butthole to a near-obsessive degree and because he was such a hot comoddity at the time of Da Hip Hop Witch‘s release date, they kept every embarrassing second of it. If you dislike Eminem as strongly as I do, Da Hip Hop Witch provides a deeply satisfying feeling of knowing that he hated his contribution as much as he did, but the movie was released anyway.

The only stipulation is that the movie is so horrifically unwatchable that most people will never be able to participate in Eminem’s public shaming. Vanilla Ice also gets his fare share of embarrassments here, as Da Hip Hop Witch was filmed during his nu metal phase, but that detail is honestly more sad than it is satisfying. Every other rapper (and there are dozens involved that I haven’t bothered to list here) get by more or less unscathed. Ultimately, who cares who’s involved, since Da Hip Hop Witch isn’t a real feature film anyway? It’s a DVD version of a home movie that never should have left the confines of Britnee’s trunk. Well, Eminem cares. When the film was set to be re-released in 2003 (what? how? why?) the rapper managed to have its cover art that prominently featured his likeness scrapped before it reached the shelves, reportedly under undisclosed, Shady circumstances. As terrible as Da Hip Hop Wtich is on the whole, Eminem’s reluctant involvement still shines as a beacon of delectable embarrassment from within. I wouldn’t say that the full experience was worth it for that aspect, but it honestly didn’t hurt.

-Brandon Ledet

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton (2014)

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threehalfstar

Initially pitched to the audience as a history of the underground hip-hop record label Stones Throw, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton actually works a lot more like an in-depth mental profile of the label’s founder, influential DJ Peanut Butter Wolf. That’s because the label’s identity is so closely linked to Wolf’s. The periods of creative excitement & devastating losses that shape Peanut Butter Wolf’s life also shape the history of his record label. Stones Throw is Wolf’s life’s work, so it makes sense that his life would have so much influence over its general sound & direction.

It makes sense then that the story of Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton begins long before the founding of Stones Throw. Providing childhood photos & home videos from Peanut Butter Wolf’s youth, the documentary shows us a young nerdy white dude as he grows in his music tastes from funk & disco to new-wave & punk to hip-hop, where he finds his calling as a taste-maker. Even in his younger days, before the turntables, Wolf is shown making mixtapes & playing curator, a skill that will later prove vital to his legacy. It’s when Wolf begins to collaborate with young rapper Charizma that his music career takes a definite shape and it’s after Charizma’s tragic, far-too-soon death that he becomes determined to make something of it. This is just one of many tragic losses Peanut Butter Wolf would suffer over the years, and it’s not until he gets excited by working with new collaborators that he can truly move on & grow.

The list of Peanut Butter Wolf’s collaborators interviewed in Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a staggering who’s-who of underground hip-hop & outsider indie music: Madlib, J Dilla, MF Doom, Common, and Anika are only a fraction of voices heard here. The interesting thing about these interviews is that the subjects are all too-smart-for-their-own-good nerds who are super awkward when faced with the scrutiny of a documentary crew. Because its subjects are so soft-spoken & nervous, the film has essentially no choice but to let the work speak for itself. An original score by Madlib (one of the label’s most influential contributors), throwback animation sequences, and rare footage of reclusive acts that don’t normally get a lot of face time all combine to show exactly what makes Stones Throw’s vibe so special. As Peanut Butter Wolf puts it, he sees his label as a stomping ground, a launching pad for people to move on from. The work isn’t always spectacular (to the documentary’s credit it doesn’t look away when Wolf gets into producing some really douchey Los Angeles weirdness), but it’s incredible how much work was made possible by a single man who knows great music when he hears it & knows how to bring out the best in his collaborators. For anyone interested in exactly how everything Peanut Butter Wolf’s put together came to be, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is an essential document. I’m not sure anyone who’s not a hip-hop nerd will be as pleased, but they might find themselves nerding out despite themselves.