From Miami to Hollywood, via fortune and hard work
The Story So Far...
The story of how he went from riches to rags and back again is told in "Hip Hop to Hollywood: The Brett Ratner Story," an effective 33-minute biography of the man, told through interviews with his friends, employers, colleagues and himself. A consistent picture emerges from these sit-downs, and that's of a guy who refuses to accept "No" for an answer, a guy who grabs onto opportunities like a dog with a bone, and a guy who always seems to be swimming in women. When a guy seems to have been blessed the way Ratner has, it's easy to hold his success against him, especially when his success comes from films aimed firmly at the mainstream. But when you have film people like Robert Evans, Bob Shaye and Quentin Tarantino praising you, the criticism must be a bit easier to handle.
The DVD isn't really focused on Ratner's film career though, as it's compromised mainly of the work that made him a big name, which was his career in music video. The set includes a mix of his early work, like his clips for Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Jodeci, along with the peak of his video career, where he worked with, among others, Madonna, Mariah Carey and Wu-Tang Clan, as well as his post-film assignments, like his videos with P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson. Looking at the list of artists he collaborates with, aside from the hip-hop flavor he's long favored, it's obvious he can work with just about anyone in just about any style, a trait that's carried over into his film career. Just compare the recreation of Soul Train he did for Lionel Richie's "Don't Want to Lose You" to the spartan take on D'Angelo's "Lady" or to the bombastic (and cliched hip-hop treatment) of P. Diddy's "Diddy." None of them are similar to the others in any way, musically or visually.
That's not to say Ratner's purely a chameleon, as there's a definite style that shines through in his videos, a three-part tool box brought to the set. The first key is the delivery of a story, which often kicks off with some dialogue early. Even when the story's not that deep, like Mary J. Blige's performance-focused "Natural Woman," it's still there to give the video some framework. This is especially true when he does videos for film soundtracks, of which there are three here. Going along with the story is a sense of humor, which is oft present, and is at times the dominant theme, like in Heavy D's "Nuttin' But Love," featuring Chris Tucker, and the starring role for Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) in Carey's silly video for her very sexy "Touch My Body." That's not to say that there's not a serious side to him (a side seen mostly in his hip-hop videos) but a Ratner video tends to be more about fun and energy.
The third, near-constant aspect of a Brett Ratner video has to be beautiful women, as he simply knows how to make a good-looking girl look great. "Nuttin' But Love" may feature the most gorgeous collection of women ever in a music video (the girl with the afro-puffs remains a crush target to this day) while the Mariah Carey videos are the best she's ever looked (which is truly saying something.) Meanwhile, he managed to make Madonna look good in "Beautiful Stranger" and took Jessica Simpson, who I honestly think looks a bit bizarre facially, and made her into a stunning pin-up by getting her into a pink string bikini and having her wash the General Lee in her Dukes of Hazzard tie-in. Voodoo, magic, special effects...it doesn't matter. He's a friend to all admirers of the female form.
Here's the line-up:
The audio isn't going to impress many with its Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, but that's just how people heard them originally. It's a simple presentation, with center-balanced mixes that keep the two channels sounding the same.
Four of the silent films Ratner directed at NYU are included here, though his most notable NYU movie, "Whatever Happened to Mason Reese?" isn't included due to rights costs (it's available on the Rush Hour DVD.) These are rather rough, and look like student work (particularly that of the '80s) but it's interesting to see where he came from, and it's a chance to see very early work by Gayheart. There's also a selection of 13 commercials/PSAs, grouped together under the title "A Gun for Hire." There's a good deal of variety in here, in terms of the age of the material and the content, as it shows off his early work, including a PSAs for the International Center for the Deaf (again featuring Gayheart) and Public Enemy, and his higher profile spots, like his "Guitar Hero" ads that were spoofs of Risky Business. Whether they are very good is another story, but, as stated before, he certainly knows how to spotlight a beautiful woman.
Another section, "The Vault" delivers four more "found" pieces that are of varying levels of interest. "Home Movies," which are literally silent films of him as a small child (under three minutes long), mainly show that he's been the center of attention for a long time. Beard by Ratner really could go in the NYU section, as he shot it at that time. Again, under three minutes long, it's an on-the-set look at a photo shoot by photographer Peter Beard, set to The Rolling Stones' "Some Girls," also again showing how effective Ratner is at shooting a pretty face. That he managed to shoot what he did as a college student, in a studio filled with barely-dressed models, is impressive in itself.
"Meet Mickey Rourke" is a touch longer, at just over four minutes, and shows Rourke, a family friend, in the early '90s as he prepared to become a boxer. Partnering with legendary documentarian Albert Maysles, who edited and produced the piece, he's put out a pretty impressive little profile. If Ratner ever really craves universal respect, this may be the direction he wants to go in. "The Vault" is closed out by a 31-minute interview on The Charlie Rose Show, to promote Rush Hour 2. Watching him chat with Rose, in combination with the other material on this disc, could possibly make you a fan of his, if you aren't already, as he comes off as a decent guy who loves film.
Also in the package is a 32-page two-sided booklet, with two sides, "Hip Hop to Hollywood: The Brett Ratner Story" and "Brett Ratner: Portraiture." Printed on heavy stock paper, the booklet has a profile of Ratner written by L.A. Weekly writer Scott Foundas, accentuated by photos and memorabilia from his life, as well as a selection of celebrity photos taken by Ratner, including Al Pacino, Kirk Douglas, Edward Norton and Roman Polanski. Both halves are very interesting, as his photos are excellent, and the profile and accompanying images get you that much closer to him.
On the Hunt...
The Bottom Line