One of the curiosities of the 2015 movie slate for me was the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. With music biopics having long since exited the high water mark for prestige films, and Walk Hard having torched the genre fairly effectively as well, there still remains a handful of music artists from the past 30 years who still deserve to be highlighted on the big screen. Mainly it’s been through documentaries as of late as music and sports share one major problem: their documentaries have been better than their feature films.
The real stories told by those who lived through them, combined with archival footage, are much more interesting these days than watching someone like Joaquim Phoenix do a Johnny Cash impression.
We don’t need to see an actor do a bad impression of an artist, or mime to their biggest hits. If there’s one genre that has really taken off in the past 15 years it’s been that of the documentary for a lot of reasons. You have ESPN doing “30 for 30,” for starters, and there’s genuine actual talent behind the camera these days as well. This is a great time to be a fan of the documentary film and thus it was a little confusing that one of the more interesting stories in music was given a feature film instead of a proper documentary. And then, after watching the first trailer for the film, one thing clearly comes to mind.
Ice Cube and Dr. Dre want to be the ones authoring NWA’s place in the minds of those who can’t be bothered to do their own research. Kind of like how Valerie Plame’s biopic turned her from CIA Analyst to a female Jason Bourne, when the facts were much murkier, one can see where the duo want the biopic to go. Part of how history remembers someone’s legacy, it seems, is through film and Straight Outta Compton is about changing the historical narrative to fit the perception that Dre and Cube (who helped get the film made) than the actual history behind it. It’s similar to how Notorious BIG was softened up significantly in Notorious and other historical facts are often ignored for the same of cinema.
History should remember NWA as a pioneering musical group …. but one who’s origins are much closer to New Edition than any other band of their era.
We know there’s going to be wide swathes of the film that’ll play more for cinema than they do for history and a documentary about the group, featuring two of the biggest music stars of the past 30 years, would’ve given us a lot more insight into the group than a feature film version of the band’s origins. I’m excited for the film, as NWA was a part of my childhood, but seeing an interpretation of their origin is a lot different than hearing it from the horse’s mouth.
Two hours plus of discussion from everyone involved, ala Marley, would give us an insight that a film designed to reflect the times it was released in as opposed to the times that it exists in will never do. I think Straight Outta Compton is going to be a good film … but as a fan of history I’d rather hear Ice Cube explain why he left the group than see his son portray an interpretation of it. I’d rather see Jerry Heller discuss the formation of the group and how it changed music in a profound and pronounced way. And I think fans would rather hear Dr. Dre discuss his life in the music industry all these years and how being at the center of both Ruthless Records and Death Row Records during their peak years influenced him.
The origin of NWA is such an interesting, fascinating story that hearing it from those who were there is something that needs to happen. But he who wins gets to write the record and let’s be fair: Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are the winners. Why? Because the film focuses on the two of them, and Eric “Easy E” Wright, but manages to not even explicitly name DJ Yella or MC Ren (the other founding members of the group). One wonders how the seminal relationship that many insiders blame for breaking the group up, of Heller the manager and Wright the talent that brought everyone together, will be portrayed considering Wright’s family and Heller were both not involved with the production of the film. Adding perspective to the pen changes everything and a Heller lawsuit about his portrayal would be amusing, to say the least.
Discussing the actual history is secondary to establishing to people what the history should be when it comes to legacy. And that’s what Straight Outta Compton feels like going in: an attempt at rewriting the record to reflect a certain narrative as opposed to reflecting the actual narrative.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
The Man from UNCLE – Guy Ritchie took over from Soderbergh as this was a project that everyone of significance in Hollywood has seemingly been attached to for nearly 20 years now.
See it – Ritchie is at least going for a 60s era spy film, which I can admire on a certain level.
Straight Outta Compton – Ice Cube and Dr. Dre produce a biopic about the band that brought both of them to fame.
See it – If you know the history then this’ll be a fascinating film to watch … mainly to see how the film differs from the reality of it all.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Tags: Dr. Dre, Easy E, Ice Cube, Monday Morning Critic, NWA, Straight Outta Compton