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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Show
The Show
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // July 6, 2004
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted July 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The definitive hip-hop documentary hasn't yet been made but when it is it won't be 90 minutes long. The story and cast of characters is just too varied for such a short running time. The problem with the 1995 film The Show is that it never gets too far below the surface. Even within the context of its own short length it seems packed with filler. Granted, the film is nearly ten years old, which might as well be a lifetime ago in the fast-paced world of rap. But even then some of the subjects of the film seemed foolish. For example, LL Cool J is shown for a few seconds but the film devotes two lengthy segments to West Coast snoozer Warren G as well as his nobody hangers-on Da Twinz and Da 5 Footaz. The only documentary that should be following those flameouts is a job training film at White Castle.

The Show has its moments but overall it's a disingenuous film. Russell Simmons, CEO of Def Jam and a chief architect of the hip-hop business, is one of the most interviewed subjects but he also bankrolled the film. There is no real delving into biz behind the biz: There is only the propagation of the "hip-hop makes dreams come true" myth. Most of the interviews with blunted stars like Snoop Dogg, Biggie Smalls, and Warren G are unilluminating. It's just cliche upon cliche. When an interesting sounding subject, like Joseph "Run" Simmons or Death Row CEO Suge Knight, appear the film quickly flashes to the next scene.

Now, when planning to make a documentary about hip-hop, your first instinct probably wouldn't be to hire as your director the guy who used to sit on the back of his chair on "Head of the Class" but that's who helmed The Show. Brian Robbins (who in the years since has directed films like Varsity Blues, Ready to Rumble and DVDTalk forum fave Good Burger) didn't seem to have the storytelling or editing skills to craft a meaningful film out of the footage he shot. The end result is shallow and scattershot.

The bulk of the film is really just an excuse to throw a huge rap concert featuring many of the film's subjects. The footage, shot in blue-tinted black-and-white, is used throughout the film, although no songs are featured in their entirety. It's really only during these sequences that the film becomes a show. While lackluster performers like Tha Dogg Pound and Warren G don't improve live, a wired performance by Staten Island collective Wu Tang Clan, including a spirited excursion into the crowd by Method Man, gives a good sense of live hip-hop at its best. Biggie Smalls stalks the stage, with his oversized presence, spitting out his twisty wordplay with ease. The late Smalls was pure hip-hop: No movie-star looks (or Hollywood aspirations, as far as I can tell) and no gimmicks. Just the beats and the rhymes.

And the concert's headliners, Run-DMC, prove why they're considered the real inventors of modern rap by so many. Armed with simple beats and lyrics, plus a generous dose of stage presence, Run and DMC ably show up all the younger performers. And it's no wonder. While most others crowd the stage with cohorts and buddies, parroting the words and causing the chaotic din that damages most live rap, Run and DMC display old-school interplay that's amazing in its simplicity. They trade lines, words, even syllables, back and forth with furious speed and rile the crowd up with hit after hit. One of the sad side-effects of watching The Show today is knowing how far they slid afterwards: Their record company effectively killed their next album, delaying it for years and saddling it with ridiculous guest stars, DMC lost his distinctive voice, ruining his ability to perform, and, worst of all, DJ Jam Master Jay, the musical backbone of the group and the only real DJ to perform in The Show, was murdered in his recording studio in 2002. Run-DMC are no more, but the legacy they left over the music world is still strong.

Which is more than can be said for many of the other stars of The Show. It's hard to pick the stars of the future and many of today's biggest names were rhyming in basements back in 95, but the emphasis on Warren G is something that really baffles me. He was big: Who doesn't remember "Regulate" (which isn't even played in the film) but did anyone ever think this guy would have a lasting impact? For The Show to spend so much time on him and his even less significant pals really drains the life out of the film. He's a footnote who's prominently featured in a film that doesn't once mention Public Enemy, EPMD, Tupac, Boogie Down Productions or even Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, who really took rap to the heartland.

But then the filmmakers' judgement wasn't sound throughout. The film starts with Craig Mack's "Flava in Your Ear," a great song to be sure, but a one-hit-wonder, intercut with a troupe of Nation of Islam drones being prepped to run security at the main concert. ("No need to think. Your instructions have already been thought out.") Who cares about this detail, which is never mentioned again? Similarly, Snoop's performance spends more time on the members of the Dogg Pound than on the star, which is a mistake since his unique flow is far more compelling than their ho-hum rants. And why is the concert set in Philadelphia, anyway? Has any significant rapper ever come out of that city?

But still there are some interesting and memorable moments. At the time Sean "Puffy" Combs was basically just the producer of Craig Mack and Biggie Smalls. In one scene Simmons explains to some model who Combs is. Combs isn't even granted a proper interview, which is hysterical since if The Show were made today he would have produced it and appeared in every scene. It's incredible how far he's moved towards becoming a global entity rather than just a music producer in such a short amount of time.

On a more chilling note, Biggie grunts in an early interview "If they gonna get me they gonna get me. It ain't like I can't be got" and later talks about how his suicide-obsessed lyrics came from a feeling that all the misery and stress of the record business would just go away if he were dead. Considering he was murdered two years after the film was released, his resignation seems ominous.

A nice sequence also follows Wu Tang Clan to Japan. While this would have probably made an interesting documentary on its own in other hands, there are still some interesting moments, like an argument between Clan members on the bullet train (with Clan non-entity U-God criticizing Method Man's hogging of the spotlight) and some quirky encounters with Japanese fans. Still, the film doesn't really make this set-up into anything special.

The video is non-anamorphic widescreen and has a grimy, lifeless quality to it. The image is dirty looking, but not in a way that adds atmosphere. Just not a pleasant picture.

The Dolby Digital surround soundtrack is as muddy as the picture. For such a music heavy film it's really a shame. Interviews are often very quiet and murky. Unimpressive.

Only trailers for Bad Boys II, You Got Served, and Boyz N The Hood (Oh yeah, Ice Cube. There's another rapper not mentioned in the film!)

The Show is lacking passion, which is thanks partly to the lackluster filmmaking and partly to some of the acts presented. Still, it is worth a look for the better moments. When Run-DMC launch into a furious version of "It's Like That" at the end of the film, all is forgiven. They are real hip-hop and the chance to relive a little of that makes The Show worth a look.

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