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 Im 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 dont 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
I guess I cant 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 cant 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 mothers 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
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 Im 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
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,
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 Diddys almost ridiculous bling.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Its 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 girls 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 Ive been taken in and fallen hook, line and sinker for
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 youve
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 actors
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 dont think Ive
often felt. Especially not for a film that quite clearly wont
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 sons 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
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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