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Fear of a Black Hat

Columbia/Tri-Star // R // July 8, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted July 27, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Movies that do a good job of spoofing the music industry are few and far between. Whether that's because most humor is so subjective or just because we accept musicians and their business as being quirky, I can't say for sure. In a wildly funny movie from 1994, Fear Of A Black Hat takes a lot of pokes at the rap and urban music industry that have yet to be topped and were consistently on mark.

The movie is set in the same vein as the rock and roll spoof This Is Spinal Tap. It looks at a fictional group, NWH, from it's inception to superstardom to the inevitable split up and reunion. The director/writer/star, Rusty Cundieff, got the budget of just under a million dollars by making a quick little short for about $600 and shopping it around. The three lead characters, Ice Cold, Tone Def, and Tasty Taste, were all modeled after top rap acts which probably had mixed feelings as to being the target of the spoof.

The movie also takes the characters to the extreme by poking fun at the violence that pervades the industry, the gun loving rapper type, scuzz-ball producers, censorship, and white rappers (the send up to Vanilla Ice was hilarious and worth the price of this one all by itself) that try to cash in on the black attitude acts so many enjoy. Further, even though the movie has a lot of humor, the dozen music videos here, all of which seem to be direct imitations of then current releases, often topped the rest of the show in their pointed looks at what was going on a decade ago.

The movie appealed to me on a number of levels. First, the simple fact is that Cundieff must've liked the acts a lot to show their excesses so well, and remain so true to the material. Even a passing glance to the specific acts, and their inevitable troubles, show that he didn't typically take the cheap route as outsiders usually do in comedy. Second, the music was close enough that if you weren't paying attention, you could easily mistake the send ups for the originals-that kind of attention to detail is sadly missing all too often in spoofs. Thirdly, down to the choreography, an attempt was made to get all the background stuff just as close as the more visible aspects of the acts. Lastly, it was good to see that so many people making this see the same issues with the rap performers that most of mainstream America noticed.

Due to the wonderfully textured portrait of this fictitious rap group, with very few scenes falling short of their mark, I rate this one as Highly Recommended. The music was good, sometimes better than the original hits, the videos were funny yet true to their roots, and it all made me want to see a sequel-not easy considering that urban music isn't my first choice to listen to. Good job!

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen. There were some limitations of the source material, given it's age and original budget, but that actually worked here since the documentary feel of it was enhanced. There were a number of moments where the sharpness and colors were off and the fleshtones not quite accurate but again, that's part of the charm here-and matched many of the original videos made fun of here. The dvd transfer was decent with no artifacts noticed either time I saw it.

Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital stereo English with optional English subtitles and some solid separation between the two channels. Overall, it was a touch hollow at times but still sounded pretty good.

Extras: The director's commentary track was both informational and fun to listen to. Cundieff speaks in terms of the actual production as well as where some of the acts he's goofing on in the movie. At times though, it was obvious that he hadn't thought much about this one in the last ten years since he made it and his memory suffered a bit. There were also some extended cast interviews by the leads that were done as the characters, not the actors portraying them, and this section wasn't as good as the movie but added some humor. The 14 deleted scenes were also hit or miss but most of them were interesting, if not great. The 12 music videos and soundtrack commercial were great and served as stand alone features, from Ice Foggy Frog to Booty Juice, none of them were filler. There was also a feature where you could watch the show with the leads "hosting" it, in effect, introducing it, which was okay to watch but not up to the standards of some of the other stuff. Lastly, there were some trailers and a paper insert to round out this fine set of extras.

Final Thoughts: What a great show. I only wish someone with this much vision were in the mood to make an updated version for all the silly stuff current performers have done over the last ten years. There's certainly no lack of material to work with in that regard but again, if you're a fan of urban/rap/hip hop music from the late 80's and early 90's, check this one out as it'll bring back lots of old memories and keep you entertained to boot(y).

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Highly Recommended

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