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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film

Produced by P Diddy
Ruby C Harrison

Okay, so its 5.45 on a slightly gray, miserable Wednesday. But it is also Orange Wednesday, and I’m off to the cinema with the lads. Feeling slightly like a voyeur, I observe this foreign species in their natural habitat; sat in their usual seats in the lounge. Seats that bear the imprint of each of my housemates ass cheeks; they don’t like to leave the house much.

What film is such a must see that these dear boys would leave the comfort of indoors? We are off to see Notorious. And my two girly housemates are either unable or disinclined to come. Notorious, the movie made in tribute and to set the record straight about Christopher Wallace, aka Biggy Smalls, aka one of the most phenomenal lyricists and rapper America has known.

I guess I can’t blame the girls for their lack of interest in some hip-hopera movie, showcasing gun crime and ‘Rappers that got beef with each other’ as Nick patiently explained to us. But really, Beef?! Beef was the last reason I wanted to see it.

In younger years, when I mistakenly believed myself to be a bit gangster, old school hip hop was something I went to bump and grind to on the weekends. Then, Biggy was, in my mind at least, the fat cuddly rapper with amazing flow and a wicked gutter to glamour story that I envied even after his fall.

When adverts had started appearing on the TV, his voice filled our living room, and although I realised even then that the film would be absolute cheese I was desperate to go. Even if it did mean a blokey evening in a big way.
So, there we were. Me sat in the lounge surrounded by the boys skinning massive joints in homage, his music thumping through the speakers. ‘Surely you can’t watch old Bigs smoke a blunt without having a little one yourself?’ Joe tried justify, thinking he was funny. The boys fell about laughing.

Twenty minutes and two spliffs later we were at the cinema, struggling to get our 2-4-1 tickets sorted and rapping ‘Dreams’ to a beat only we could hear. It all contributed to their sense of occasion, keenly felt, to be at the cinema. As soon as we were past the ticket booth unanimously they deeply inhaled and appreciatively breathed in the tooth-achingly sweet smell of sugar popcorn and hot dogs. Lush.

Compared to going with my girlfriends the experience was as super-sized as Biggy himself; we entered the cinema with no less than four litres of Fanta, enough popcorn to stuff several beanbags and a box of sweets that probably weighed more than a small child. The excitement radiating from my stoned companions was tangible as they crammed popcorn into their open mouths, eyes glued to the screen. And so it began.

We meet Christopher as a young, cutely chubby boy with aviator bottle top glasses. He sits in school rapping lyrics out of Word Up magazine and unbelievably that almost poetic gift of slicing syllables against the rhythm of a beat is already there.

Walking home from school with his mother one day, his dad appears for the first time. We see him, late that night as Chris watches his parents arguing; sees his mother’s proud refusal of money as his dad refuses play a part in his life. However, before this, and on his next day at school, young Christopher pens his first angry lyrics about his failed father.

Biggy grows older, and starts selling drugs to pay for the clothes, bling, and respect he desires. With the Midas touch he seems to possess he soon achieves this dream, but achieves it selling crack to pregnant women. There is no apology made for this; Biggy himself nonchalantly says ‘I’m a drug dealer, not a social worker.’ His true gift he leaves for street battles and entertaining his close knit group of mates; the future junior mafia who stay with him through his entire story.

Sooner than expected comes his fall; the police catch him and he is sent to jail, stripped of everything. From inside, Biggy begins to rebuild a relationship with his mother, one that disintegrated when she realised his illegal occupation. Whilst in jail Biggy also becomes a first time father and his eventual return home was a genuinely moving reunion, simply done.

Next the story became more recognisable; his first mix tape, which, with luck and his undeniable talent falls into the hands of none other than P Diddy. Biggie goes along for a meeting with him and they hit it off straight away, although Biggies unbranded tracksuit looks grubby against the pimped up office and Diddy’s almost ridiculous bling. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not really surprising that they get along; throughout the film Biggie is portrayed as a proper, genuine legend. He is the original diamond in the rough; gaining instant respect from his crew and charming any girl’s knickers into hitting the floor as soon as he starts his pretty impressive sweet talking. Even I started to fancy him! But more than this, although he is occasionally near violent, he treats the women he loves with respect and support. It all added to his overall character; he seemed like a good man, pretty cool and sexy to boot.

I guess this portrayal is partly due to the executive producers being none other than Diddy, his best friend and mentor, and his mother. But watching the film, and knowing the bias it must have been written from, I found myself wishing it was true; as a character he was eminently likeable despite his faults. I realised I had gone to see the film expecting the stereotype; rap, guns, sex and instead had found a loving memoriam of a man good at the basest level. Rereading those last sentences I realise I’ve been taken in and fallen hook, line and sinker for the cheese…but so what!
As well as this, it was so good seeing Biggy achieve his dream; always just succeeding then stepping back and watching his star rise with something close to awe.

The film is nicely done; the soundtrack outstanding with Biggy, Tupac and everything with a beat in-between. It was amazing to see the songs being made, him in the studio, rapping purely and effortlessly after a heavy night of living the dream; Moet, joints and cigars. It seemed exactly like I used to imagine.

Often it was close to comedy how they slipped his song lyrics into the script. A classic example? ‘So, Bigs, how does it feel now you’ve made it?’ ‘Well, you know what they say – Mo’ money, mo’ Problems.’ I mean, come on.
There was also amusement to be found in the supporting actor’s portrayal of rappers and singers still alive today. P Diddys character is hilarious at times, prancing around on stage like a monkey in an almost perfect imitation of the man himself.

But it was not just the characters on the screen feeling the music. Whenever another tune came on and as the music rocked around the cinema, the two pairs of his and hers addidas classics that rested on the seat in front tapped in time to the beat which was wicked. There was a sense within the cinema of a group appreciation which I don’t think I’ve often felt. Especially not for a film that quite clearly won’t become a blockbusting classic.

What redeems the movie, despite this, actually comes from his audience; at the end of the film, after first Tupac, and then Biggies tragic deaths, his casket moves slowly through Brooklyn as his mother narrates a tender but angry eulogy.
Although there are several scences within the film taken from actual footage, it is here that its use is most poignant. Outside her expensive black car, the streets are lined with thousands; carrying candles and boom boxes blaring her son’s voice back to her. Looking across to the boys I saw genuine tears held back in their eyes and I marvelled at the power of such a standard film to so deeply affect us all.

And so my evening with the boys ended with us stumbling bleary eyed from the cinema. I came away thinking that actually, a quiet boys night out was more fun than I might of expected and also what an amazing legacy someone can make through life and music.

© Ruby C Harrison March 2009
Ruby is in her final year of her degree at the University of Portsmouth

SKINS- Season Two
Producer Brian Elsey -Channel 4
Ruby C Harrison
Maybe I should be the first to say it. Put it out there and stop waiting for one more episode like an abandoned first date still filled with a puny and unfounded bit of hope that things will go well. So here we go; the new skins is utter crap.

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