Armond White:"Can Jay-Z and Diddy save hip hop?"

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This guy is a really terrible film critic. He's better as a music writer. Anyway, this is of some interest.


THE WALL CAME TUMBLING DOWN
Can Jay-Z and P. Diddy regenerate hiphop culture with a video and a play?

By Armond White

HIPHOP HIT A brick wall at its most influential moment with booty-clapping, money-tossing imagery and lurid, greed-driven lyrical content. But filmmaker Mark Romanek and Jay-Z have finally broken through this ethical stagnation with the new music video 99 Problems. It's a strong, strangely beautiful fiction that subverts hiphop cliche and achieves a streetwise definition of New York City that film and music fans have been waiting to see updated since Mean Streets.

There have been a few fresh visions (Public Enemy's 911 Is a Joke, De La Soul's A Roller Skating Jam Called 'Saturdays', Wu-Tang Clan's Could It All Be So Simple), but Romanek himself summed up the cliches back in '91 when musing on a concept for De La Soul's Ring, Ring, Ring (Hey, Hey, Hey). Chicago-born Romanek lamented, "All rap music videos look the same. They're all shot against a brick wall." The success of that stereotype—the marketable pretense of "keeping it real" by keeping it degraded—is what has kept the culture from growing.

Hiphop's brick wall of stereotypes about the city and its inhabitants was erected by the culture itself. And because it's lucrative, those cliches got repeated. Stigmatization is perpetuated every time you see a music video by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, Juvenile, Bonecrusher or Nelly that reinforces banalities about the way black people live. In All Fall Down, even director Chris Milk ignores Kayne West's introspection ("We're all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it") for t&a. This dubious picto-mythology has even influenced the way artists and audiences imagine urban life. They accept rude and lewd affectation as authentic, as in Nas' One Mic.

This seemed unstoppable—the video hoodrat doomed to forever chasing its own tail—until now. In 99 Problems, hiphop's best-selling cliches are subverted by Romanek's first-time shooting of a hiphop video on the streets of New York and Jay-Z's intense dramatization of the place.

In Stevie Wonder's 1973 "Living for the City," a tourist famously (and naively) exclaimed "New York! Just like I pictured it!" Ironically, Romanek proves that in the hiphop era most people's idea of New York comes from videos (and movies) that dishonestly construct a stereotypical New York of loiterers, thugs and reprobates. Black and white film gives it a documentary effect, as if casting an anthropological eye on graffiti, tenements, break-dancers and flashy cars. The stylized look distances ghetto life, but Romanek's structure shifts from borough to borough, playground to jailhouse—a series of interlocking actions from a crazy-quilt travelogue of New York City. 99 Problems shows a young black man's New York as it has never been seen before. Jay-Z spins a tale of common aimlessness and selfish survival ("Ya havin' girl problems?/I feel bad for you, son/I got 99 problems/And a bitch ain't one"). His delivery is terse yet eloquent—swingsong, but the world he walks through is ferocious.

No rap fan watching 99 Problems would sensibly long to partake in its spectacle. The jail scenes (with frontal nudity of inmates being sprayed for lice) are controversial, restricting the video's airplay even on cable outlets. This is a tribute to Romanek's visual intensity. He has an iconographic gift to make commonplace things memorable or (as in Hurt for Johnny Cash) numinous. In 99 Problems, images and words become a wrecking ball against the familiar edifice of ghetto-fabulous determinism. 99 Problems breaks through the NYC truisms of poverty and deprivation that hiphop culture has romanticized. Romanek sees the place clearer, tougher and poetically. The cliches will no longer stand.

Every other music video director will have to face up to this and respond. Romanek's esthetics are informed by a rare social consciousness. (He not only shows what New York folks look like, but how they actually live, mixing harshness and lyricism.) That's the subversion. This video questions what all the others say is fly, def or cool by showing that hipster perspective to be limited; simply sexy rather than shocking; and laughable instead of tragic. "We're trying to show the artistry side of hiphop," Jay-Z told a reporter. "I just really wanted [Mark] to shoot like where I'm from in Brooklyn and shoot the hood, but shoot it like art, not just shoot a bunch of dudes or a bunch of cars."

Most hiphop videos don't document New York so much as portray its mean-streets myth: a place of strife, aggression, hostility. It's where immigrant dreams are crushed by ethnic separatism, capitalist ruthlessness and the various mobs and drug cliques. In 99 Problems, Romanek and Jay-Z mix scenes of stress with scenes of diversion. The contrast of boys on bikes with bikini-wearing lap-dancers suggests a broad range of behavior. Romanek's juxtapositions remind us how such images are usually placed in limited contexts. He's learned from his peer Hype Williams how to make these activities sensual and kinetic, but his restless montage creates a new political, moral tension. He can't think of the innocuous routines in ghetto life (a kid romping on a discarded mattress, a madman dressed as a shaman in an apartment corridor, a b-ball game) without also considering the pernicious ones (pitbull fights, shootings, profiling by police). That's where the filmmaker's sensibility syncs with the rapper's.

Jay-Z has extended the New York consciousness of Biggie Smalls and has matched Biggie's verbal genius. Jay-Z's songs present an honest, never sappy view of the Apple as Black America. Stepping up his perception on last year's The Black Album, Jay-Z needed to represent urban lore in a way that did not diminish it. His previous video Dirt off Your Shoulder (directed by Dave Meyers) offered the slyest empowerment. Instead of finger-flipping rebellion, Jay-Z prescribed brushing away the day's troubles—or a bothersome person—with a single, imperious, stylish gesture. Paced to Jay-Z's narration, the day-in-the-life images became nocturnal with a snap of his fingers. Lights in the city went dark, then all the ghetto folk began to glow like images in a thermal x-ray. Their phosphorescence symbolized life-force, a misunderstood (often misrepresented) energy.

It was not a great day for the race when the entertainment industrial complex took on the artisanal productions of urban youth, eventually taking over their dreams. And it was not a great day for America when hiphop helped shift young people's priorities toward the purely commercial and self-serving. In this era of black/youth exploitation, it is the delusion of success that prevents social progress. Today's hiphop conventions include stereotypes that harken back to the tap-dancing, street-corner busking ragamuffins you see in Depression-era flicks, only this time around the break-dancing, hoop-dreaming youth are not deprived of social opportunity; they're in defiance of more beneficial alternatives. If they're in show business, self-abasement becomes their social opportunity.

Jay-Z's 99 Problems refers to precisely this twisting of motivations and ambition. He is dedicated to the proposition of serious hiphop (just as Chuck D once griped, "Your general subject, Love, is minimal/It's sex for profit"). As Romanek's images keep coming at you—pulsing to producer Rick Rubin's sullen, reverberating beat—they fall into line as maybe the truest-ever hiphop portrait of New York life. From the Marcy Projects to a church in Brooklyn, it's a visual parade of around-the-corner confrontations, whimsical children, lost adults, desperate hedonism—the things most hiphop videos treat blithely. No bling-bling allowed. Romanek never pauses for condescension, but a couple shots that dolly into a funeral home, then a coffin, are appropriately stunning. Only the inevitability of death impedes on the velocity of life.

If ever there were a New York City observation, that's it. Most hiphop videos are devoted to the shallow distractions of entertainment and fail to recognize the moments when its habits and rituals move into the realm of tragedy. The power of 99 Problems comes from this realization. When Jay-Z raps, "Let me re-in-tro-duce myself," it's his intention to re-present urban life more profoundly. An interlude of Jay-Z and Rick Rubin stopped by a suspicious cop offers more than Jay-Z's amazing theatrical mimicry. He does two voices in the dialogue—both supercilious authority and wised-up player. Showing how street smarts blur into legalities, this scene explicates an NYC life lesson. Through sharp characterization and Romanek's visual flair (including an incriminating dissolve to the contents of a car trunk), Jay-Z plays out the hard way ambition competes with despair.


THE BRILLIANCE OF 99 PROBLEMS coincides with Sean (P. Diddy) Combs' Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, another break through the wall of hiphop platitudes. Combs shifts from his hiphop career to reintroduce the contemporary pop audience to the tough discourse of civil rights found in Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 play. Was it only ego that made him debut on Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun? Would the hubris of this production be better suited for the Clinton era? Or does the play register somewhere in Combs' mind as a genuine expression of the black American struggle, such that hiphop has distorted?

Taking the male lead as Walter Lee Younger, Jr., the young man whose ambitions confound the women in his family (the role that Sidney Poitier made definitive in the 1961 film version) is a test of Combs' pop culture authority. He must be able to convey Walter's aspiration ("I'm a giant surrounded by ants"), and he has to convince his base audience that those early-60s goals (self-determination, equal rights) still matter. "Ain't you see no stars gleaming that you can't reach?" Walter asks sympathetically.

During an opening week performance at the Royale theater, the mixed crowd included a group of jersey-clad wiggers yelling "Diddy!" at the star's entrance and whooping whenever Walter showed energy or aggression. Bad-boy celebrity can be a burden—especially when it gets in the way of a serious message. Moving from "It's All About the Benjamins" to Hansberry requires a progression from adolescent impudence, an effort toward growth. Combs poses a significant challenge to his fans when Walter declares, "Life is divided between the takers and the tooken," because the play's thrust undercuts that short-sighted, chart-topping cynicism. Walter's alibi for gambling the family insurance inheritance on a shaky business deal is, "I didn't make this world. It was given to me this way"—lines written 30 years before Tupac would paraphrase them to excuse his own acquiescence to greed and nihilism. By explicating Hansberry's wisdom, Combs stands a chance to correct ghetto humbug and salvage hiphop culture.

Combs' lack of stage craft (he internalizes rather than projects) isn't surprising; the surprise is that this project is more serious than most of the music he's lately produced. Hansberry's play contains a solid understanding of urban life. Amiri Baraka first scoffed at it, but later recanted and praised. By putting Raisin on the boards, Combs resurrects a classic every bit as worthwhile as A Streetcar Named Desire. What has been dismissed as ethnic homilies now appear, after the sea change of hiphop, like sturdy wisdom. Walter is an authentic American type, though less widely acknowledged than a hiphop caricature. Hansberry positioned him in a Chicago flat haunted by the ghost of his father, a black man sacrificed to the scourges of the pre-Civil Rights era. Yet the play is juiced by sexual tension: Walter strains under the loving, oppressive weight of women. ("Why you always trying to feed me!" he protests.) The first strong scene is a confab between Walter's wife, mother and sister. They're three aspects of Hansberry's self but, like Robert Altman's film 3 Women, also manifestations of what the artist knows about the distaff search for identity and its various stages.

In the movie, star power fused with Hansberry's articulation. Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands and Ivan Dixon were all great. This largely female stage cast (especially Audra MacDonald and Phylicia Rashad) gets by because they understand their mission. A Nigerian suitor for the sister Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan) gives her an African name that translates as "She for whom bread is not enough." He for whom fame is not enough can still use acting lessons.


THE CONCURRENCE OF 99 Problems and A Raisin in the Sun is a significant breakthrough in New York pop and for hiphop culture. On P. Diddy's disgraceful MTV series Making the Band, the thumbsucking wannabes have no consciousness that the lifestyle they pledge themselves to requires they reflect on their personal lives and social obligations. They seem to believe life is what they saw in every vapid music video. (The way they trashed a downtown hotel and P. Diddy's Park Ave. mansion confirms the most racist NYC stereotypes.) In his non-acting role as record mogul, P. Diddy is an exploiter, not a teacher. Raisin at least proves his artistic instinct is sound, just as 99 Problems is a triumph for its makers.

At this cultural moment and in these works, Romanek, Jay-Z and P. Diddy are forcing a reassessment of what hiphop culture means. Both 99 Problems and A Raisin in the Sun represent responses to a dead end. Ultimately, both works signal a regenerating of New York culture, New York potential. I can't think of any other popular artists who are attempting or achieving as much.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:15 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Okay I really need to download this video tonight.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:24 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

well THAT wasn't overblown, now was it?

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:45 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

finally hip-hop videos can have the production values of bjork and johnny cash clips! thank god!!

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:46 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Every other music video director will have to face up to this and respond.

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:46 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

also the idea that jay is "never sappy" is ri-goddamn-diculous.

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:47 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Is the video not good? It sounds good. (This piece is silly btw.)

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:49 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

anyway, ethan said it best: seriously if you cant think of 100 jay-z songs better than 99 problems you can fuck off

nah, the video is okay, but for goddsakes it just looks like every other "arty" mid-90s video!

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:50 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

i like the video, the piece is stupid and kinda makes me hate it though!

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:50 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That doesn't sound that good.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:51 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

lemme describe it for you:

very high contrast black and white
harsh, fast edits
mixture of sexual, religious, and "street" imagery

sound familiar?!

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:53 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I wonder if anyone is really paying attention to A Raisin in the Sun. You'd swear from this article that it's provoking a Lorraine Hansberry renaissance, but that seems like hype to me.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

This video questions what all the others say is fly, def or cool by showing that hipster perspective to be limited; simply sexy rather than shocking; and laughable instead of tragic. "We're trying to show the artistry side of hiphop," Jay-Z told a reporter. "I just really wanted [Mark] to shoot like where I'm from in Brooklyn and shoot the hood, but shoot it like art, not just shoot a bunch of dudes or a bunch of cars."

this article is so self-contradictory!

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

"LIKE A PRAYER"?!?!

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

but maybe i'm just resentful at mark romanek for questioning what i say is fly, def or cool

(xp)

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Oh wait that wasn't in b&w, nevermind haha.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:55 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

haha yeah but i think mark romanek directed it and it was the first thing i thought of when i typed it.

really it reminds me of a NIN video, just trading cod-"industrial" signifiers for rap ones.

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:56 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

You just know that collab is coming too, dontchya.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:58 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

haha there's kind of a fine line separating "perfect drug" from "is that your bitch" i guess

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 00:59 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Jesus H. Christ on a goddamn fucking crutch. I want to hit the author of the piece with one of those scaly fish that causes bleeding scrapes on skin.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:01 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

ROCK IS BACK!

cinniblount (James Blount), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:02 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

ARGH.

I mean seriously, Gear, you say his music criticism is okay and his FILM criticism is what sucks?

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

he's not talking about production values! or music!

gabbneb (gabbneb), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:05 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

so is this the long delayed answer video to monster magnet's 'alt-rock videos = boring ass; hip-hop videos = super fun time' salvo?

cinniblount (James Blount), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Hahah.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:10 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Fish beatings?

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:10 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

The Kanye video isn't just T&A. And I'm pretty sure Jay never raps "let me reintroduce myself"

Sym (shmuel), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:19 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I get too distracted by the girl in the Kanye video to even notice that he's rapping. It's a good video like that.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:20 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

the kanye video is an oblique meditation of the toll child acting takes on the actors themselves

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:22 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(and also stacey dash's very fine breasts and behind)

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:22 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Who is the child actor in the Kanye video?

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:24 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

the small asian boy who squirts mustard on him

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Fish beatings?

The sledgehammer is used for Rush L. tonight.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

also, kanye was played by emmanuel lewis.

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Stacey Dash has a great name. I can't believe she was NEARLY 30 when she did Clueless!

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:27 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Hahaha I totally don't remember her from any of these TV shows.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:27 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

when she gets married she will be mrs. dash

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:28 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Sprinkle some of that shit over here, honey.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:29 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Salt free, even.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I was damning with faint praise, Raggett! the article is hilarious.

I mean As Romanek's images keep coming at you—pulsing to producer Rick Rubin's sullen, reverberating beat—they fall into line as maybe the truest-ever hiphop portrait of New York life.

Thank you Rick and Mark for saving hip hop from itself!

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:32 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

he is worse as a film critic, believe it or not. Apparently if you didn't like 3000 Miles to Graceland, Misson to Mars, A:I, etc and you DID like anything shot on DV, Guy Maddin, etc. you're a moron.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:35 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I like the first, hated the next two (well M2M is fine enough for comedy, I guess). I don't like Guy Maddin though and I am ambivalent about DV.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:39 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I don't mind his opinions but his tendency to villify those who disagree or just happen to feel differently. I'm sure among NYC writers he's pretty notorious for being a dick.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:41 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That would be the pot calling the kettle black.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:42 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

true true

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:45 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

usually Armond White is frothing at the mouth with racist conspiracies than ILM, shame he handled this one with kid gloves.

Al (sitcom), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

with *more* racist etc, that should've said

Al (sitcom), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 01:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I was damning with faint praise, Raggett! the article is hilarious.

Just checking. ;-)

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 02:11 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

The Kanye video isn't just T&A. And I'm pretty sure Jay never raps "let me reintroduce myself"

he does rap it, but it's "allow me to" and it's in the second interlude/psa. i haven't seen the 99 problems video yet; but i know at least parts of this interlude were mixed into the dirt off my shoulder video so i guess anything's possible.

andrew s (andrew s), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 02:52 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I read this thread as "Can, Jay-Z and Diddy save hip hop." Heh.

Laszlo Kovacs (Laszlo Kovacs), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 04:20 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

xpost: oh, okay it's just typical nyc chauvinism then, mea culpa.

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(the current state of rap vids owes way more to compton than nyc anyway.)

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

you know, ass-fixation and angst aren't mutually inseparable

(xp)

s1ocki (slutsky), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:26 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(which was my point above about tupac all along x-post)

strongo hulkington (dubplatestyle), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:28 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

How exactly do you hit a brick wall with imagery? Is the "lyrical content" driven by greed or are the lyrics rapped by "greed-driven" narrators? Setting White's argument aside, this is some terrible writing.

Keith Harris (kharris1128), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink


xpost: oh, okay it's just typical nyc chauvinism then, mea culpa.

Haha! (This had in fact crossed my mind but I decided to wait on saying it...)

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:32 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

i thought ass-fixation and angst were the same thing?

gareth (gareth), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:44 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I keep thinking the guy's called 'Almond'. It makes his full name sound like an ice cream flavour.

Barima (Barima), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:50 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Astoundingly bad. I particularly like this line:

"It was not a great day for the race when the entertainment industrial complex took on the artisanal productions of urban youth, eventually taking over their dreams."

Right, because it's fine to let urban youth dream of being celebrated for their talents, so long as they have no chance of actually making any money out of it.

Dave M. (rotten03), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 14:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I agree with Matos.
-- Phil Freeman (newyorkisno...), May 12th, 2004.

first time for everything, right Phil?! ;-)

Matos W.K. (M Matos), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 22:25 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

but Romanek himself summed up the cliches back in '91 when musing on a concept for De La Soul's Ring, Ring, Ring (Hey, Hey, Hey). Chicago-born Romanek lamented, "All rap music videos look the same. They're all shot against a brick wall."

I used to watch rap videos all the time in 1991 and I don't remember them all looking the same at all. I remember pink cadillacs flying in front of the moon, another car ploughing into a burning cross, Queen Latifah knocking giant chess pieces off a board, and scenes shot in Egypt.

Rockist Scientist, Wednesday, 12 May 2004 22:38 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

when I say terrible film critic, I mean TERRIBLE


Sideburns, ducktails, money, blood and sex–that’s the satirical surface of 3000 Miles to Graceland. Underneath is a pretty fair assessment of American ambition gone wrong. Kevin Costner plays Murphy, a sociopath obsessed with Elvis Presley who rounds up a gang to rob a Las Vegas casino during an Elvis imitators’ convention. If the symbolism’s bloated, so is the idolatry that Costner and director Demian Lichtenstein deride. Presley’s legend haunts the movie as a fat, gaudy, bankrupt ideal that still serves to motivate the disheartened.

Murphy and his partner Michael (Kurt Russell), desert mom Cybil (Courteney Cox) and her ragamuffin son Jesse (David Kaye) aren’t doomed, they’re pathetic, double-crossing each other in ways that suggest the hollowness of life predicated on money; losers who console themselves with the world’s plunder. 3000 Miles’ early climax–the robbery sequence–is the most calamitously violent action scene ever to put a thought in the audience’s mind. Unlike Kubrick’s inexorable fatalism in The Killing, this sequence is just blunt. "As wild and as daring as anything on the American landscape," says a startled tv reporter. (Or else, simply the best contemporary shootout Walter Hill didn’t direct.) Though it’s similar to the kind of pointless bang-bang moviegoers accept as a Saturday Night Special, I vouch for the split-second editing that catches a bullet going through an Elvis cape. And I salute the cut to the exterior that shows a chopper coming to rendezvous with Murphy’s band. Suspended in midair–and time–this image, hovering over the casino, is breathtaking.

The entire movie has the feel of being in moral suspension. Despite the caper plot and bloody intensity, this isn’t a typically cynical neo-noir. That War in Vegas sequence establishes a spangly, neon miasma so that we watch the peacetime story appropriately aghast at the evidence of contemporary dissolution. 3000 Miles tracks pessimistic ex-cons, broken families on the road, boys without role models, casual venality, the familiarity of violence. It’s flashy but it’s also uncanny. The story of Michael’s corruption opposes Murphy’s hopeless corruption (announced in the 3-D credit sequence). It seeks decent, humane gestures (among them, Ice-T keeping thieves’ honor through a spectacular sacrifice) and, with a sense of topsy-turvy grace, moves toward light. Michael, Cybil and Jesse sail off into uncertain political waters just like the characters in Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite. If critics mistake 3000 Miles for a Renny Harlin jamboree (or instead, find it inferior to such trash), it will prove how far we’ve fallen, no longer looking for meaning or emotion in action movies.

No actors are more empathetic than Russell and Costner. Both leathery and wizened, they’re surrounded by character types (David Arquette, Bokeem Woodbine, Howie Long and Christian Slater) distinctive enough to sharpen Jesse’s–our entire culture’s–sense of role-model fatigue. That Murphy, with his scorpion belt buckle, was a Nam medic before going bad signals deep distress that might be vague to today’s audience. Still, Lichtenstein, searching for the right, meaningful detail, uses the action genre as a dramatic form expressing the modern generational dilemma–without being lugubrious like Sean Penn’s The Pledge. Lichtenstein and cowriter Richard Recco come up with a saying for our times when Murphy, in a fight, is told, "That’s your criminal right!" The line transcends sarcasm; it bravely discloses a genuine social imbalance–as in such nonpresumptuous action flicks as George Armitage’s Vigilante Force. I fear that 3000 Miles might speed past many people’s heads just as the 70s road-movie alienation of Duets did last fall. These entertaining little movies hint at Americans’ barely articulated desires for a change of priorities and enlightened models of behavior. That overworked, blustery Elvis image (which serves as a conscripted uniform for Murphy’s gang) should provide a wake-up call even to those who share Greil Marcus’ wet dream.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 22:38 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

greil marcus' wet dream?

Sym (shmuel), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 22:45 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I don't want to know.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 22:47 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

you mean you don't share it?

Sym (shmuel), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 22:58 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That review makes my heart hurt.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:02 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

He's right, you know. That movie's great.

Phil Freeman (Phil Freeman), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:10 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

I said I liked the movie upthread, but reading that review you'd have no idea it was actually good.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:12 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Did you like it for the same reasons or is he just insane?

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:14 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

No, I like it mostly despite the things he talks about liking. Yes, he is insane.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:15 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

So I figured.

Seriously, looking at the original article again, what the flying fuck. You couldn't have done a better parody article on the subject if you tried.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:16 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

oops, looks like I didn't like Duets either, sorry.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Strangely I agree with him some of the time, but he clearly not only thinks he's right about everything, and that not only is everyone else wrong, everyone else is morally suspect and possibly evil.

He has a hard-on for DePalma, Altman, Walter Hill, Alan Rudolph, Tupac, the Smiths, and few others.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:32 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Having a hard-on for Alan Rudolph makes you morally suspect in my book.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:34 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Sure hope he googles himself and comes here and complains. I'll be deeply entertained!

Ned Raggett (Ned), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:36 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Fuck him for liking shit like Afterglow and Welcome to LA.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:38 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

The funny part about the New York Press is that he and the other critic (Matt Zoller Seitz) don't seem to like each other, judging from the occasional sniping. Seitz is actually one of my favorite film critics. A more lucid thinker, a better writer, and his opinions always seem to be his own, he's never reacting against what others have said about the film in question.

Gear! (Gear!), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:42 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

For the record, I think Walter Hill and Brian Depalma are underrated, too. Altman is overrated though (except for Nashville and McCabe and Mrs. Miller which can't be overrated enough.)

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Wednesday, 12 May 2004 23:44 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

The "99 Problems" video is cool, but no one should be paying any attention to Armond White. As a (film) critic, he's so far up his own bungy that he can say "hi!" to Thanksgiving Dinner.

Jay Vee (Manon_70), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:04 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Gear OTM about MZS

Matos W.K. (M Matos), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:05 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Though the image of some "wiggers" shouting out Puffy as he enters Stage Left is pretty fun.

Jay Vee (Manon_70), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

my favorite Armond White review is for American Beauty, he went real apeshit on that one and for the most part I agree.

Al (sitcom), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:07 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

He was made that it was too mean, right? (I'm just guessing.)

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:20 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

made=mad

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:21 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

There was another overblown piece about this video in the Sunday NYT too.

C0L1N B3CK3TT (Colin Beckett), Thursday, 13 May 2004 01:37 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

first off, "stigmatization is perpetuated..." fuck that shit. jay-z just has talent like louie armstrong, or whoever that trumpet player was who blew in front of all white bands and audiences. duke ellington! it's a total white-guy "keeping it real" retard notion. i can't believe this

I actually like his movie reviews. I mean he doesn't shy away from letting you know how he really feels. Also, they tend to be pretty memorable. I think I see his "overblown tendencies" as strong emotional resposes. Not what you usually get with movie reviews, i guess unless you count "hated it" or "loved it."

strong emotional responses are overblown tendencies when you can't write well. so many words i'd rather read "hated it" or "loved it" with a picture of him smiling smarmy, lips hiding teeth, eyes hollow. hated it!

$corpium ($corpium), Thursday, 13 May 2004 04:55 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

key phrases redux:

1) "partake in its spectacle"

$corpium ($corpium), Thursday, 13 May 2004 05:02 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

1) "...partake in its spectacle"
2) "the familiar edifice of ghetto-fabulous determinism"
3) "pauses for condescension"

$corpium ($corpium), Thursday, 13 May 2004 05:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

first off, "stigmatization is perpetuated..." fuck that shit. jay-z just has talent like louie armstrong, or whoever that trumpet player was who blew in front of all white bands and audiences. duke ellington! it's a total white-guy "keeping it real" retard notion. i can't believe this

(1) lots of black musicians played in all-white clubs during the '20s and '30s; not sure what yr overriding point there is.

(2) Armond White is, in fact, black.

Matos W.K. (M Matos), Thursday, 13 May 2004 06:15 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(a photo and interview: http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/winter2004/features/the_critic.html)

Matos W.K. (M Matos), Thursday, 13 May 2004 06:17 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

yeah, i was gonna say, the guy is black.

i actually don't like reading his essays per se but he sometimes has short little pieces in film comment that are ok, sometimes he has interesting reasons for talking about something. his taste is really perverse and unpredictable, which is good and bad.

amateur!st (amateurist), Thursday, 13 May 2004 06:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

five years pass...

while he did throw shapes abt these indie bands to drum up publicity for blueprint 3, the common source of this for both jay-z & d projectors is probably new-agey self-help stuff. it's a p ancient idea.

tbrrprint (2) HD (zvookster), Tuesday, 13 April 2010 13:52 (seven years ago) Permalink

jayzheadnod.gif

nakhchivan, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 13:53 (seven years ago) Permalink

haha!

tbrrprint (2) HD (zvookster), Tuesday, 13 April 2010 13:53 (seven years ago) Permalink

seven years pass...

Armond on The Smiths' Girlfriend in a Coma

flappy bird, Friday, 11 August 2017 04:22 (two months ago) Permalink

God I hate to be "well actually" but girlfriend in a coma isn't even in the top 10 of controversial morrissey/smiths songs

-_- (jim in vancouver), Friday, 11 August 2017 06:51 (two months ago) Permalink

i've never been a fan of armond but that was a pretty decent piece imo

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Friday, 11 August 2017 07:23 (two months ago) Permalink

did we ever get this sorted lads

for sale: clown shoes, never worn (bizarro gazzara), Friday, 11 August 2017 08:33 (two months ago) Permalink

somewhere in my hellsite of a flat i have a copy of a new york city sun (from 1992 i guess?) which contains two long articles by armond white (while it lasted he was its critic-in-chief)

1: is a long detailed look at malcolm x the historical figure and malcolm x the movie
2: the other is a long favourable look at morrissey, who AW was very evidently drawn to

given both their subsequent trajectories i think this is both telling and -- to be fair to AW -- perceptive

(the movie came out the exact month of the madstock/union jack controversy, which is where inklings of doubt did begin elsewhere; can't recall if the city sun piece discusses this or predates it; should probably look it out and report back, perhaps a month off-line wd do me good)

mark s, Friday, 11 August 2017 10:45 (two months ago) Permalink


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