Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes
Directed by Byron Hurt, 2006

While scrolling through the blog to find my favorite entries from the semester, I stumbled across an entry I hadn’t read before. It was Michael’s entry on Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a 2006 documentary film directed by Byron Hurt. I was glad to see it posted here because it is one of my favorite documentaries. However, I was also a bit surprised for one important reason: it is not a short. The entry says it is 4 minutes 53 seconds long but it is actually 56 minutes long. Additionally, it was posted during the “online only” week but it actually debuted at Sundance Film Festival, was shown on PBS, and is available to buy on DVD.

I should point out that I’m not saying this to be condescending or to prove Michael wrong. My intention is to examine how a feature length film could so easily turn into a short and what that says about short films.

After I read Michael’s entry, I went to Youtube and searched for the version of the film he reviewed. I’m pretty sure I found it here and it is misleading. It’s misleading because it is a convincing short. All of the scenes shown here are part of the full-length version and explore the four issues plaguing hip-hop today: masculinity, homophobia, sexism, and violence. This condensed version of the film makes all the same arguments and features a lot of the most effective scenes from the film. It works. I can see how it would seem complete and powerful on its own. Compared with the real version of the film, though, it leaves me wanting more. All of main ideas and arguments are there but it is missing some great interviews. We get snippets, like when Hurt tries to ask Busta Rhymes about homophobia in hip-hop and Busta basically freaks out and refuses to even “go there,” only further proving Hurt’s argument. However, one of the greatest aspects of the film is that Hurt doesn’t talk at the hip-hop community, he engages them and pulls them into the debate. He allows some of the biggest names in the game (both old and new) a chance to contribute to the discourse. That great component to the film is lost in the short version of the film.

It was that loss of depth that made me feel like I was watching an extended trailer of the film (which is basically what it is since it doesn’t seem like Hurt had anything to do with this edited version). I’m not saying that disqualifies it from being a short film. (I’m not completely sold on the idea that a trailer is a short film but I can’t push it aside, either). Instead, I’d maybe compare the short version to Foxhole. It could have included more interviews and found footage to tell a broader story but it didn’t need to to be successful.

In my paper, I argued that length does not limit a short film from telling a story as complex as a feature. When I began writing this entry, I questioned whether I still believed that to be true. The shortened version was good but it lacked certain elements that made the real version great. Would it be the same if we curtail all other features? And then I thought back to some of the great films we watched this past semester (The Replacement Child and La Jetee, being two of my favorites) and I couldn’t help but stick by my original argument.

To check out Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, watch it here.


Moses Goldberg said...

I've never seen this movie but as a big hip-hop fan, it sounds like it might be good. I'll have to check it out

Fran said...

i haven't seen the movie either but i would be interested in seeing it now.

about shorts vs feature films - i think both are valid ways of expressing ideas, but the reason the extended trailer seems to be lacking, i think, is because the intent to tell a certain story is gone. to know you have an hour instead four minutes would definitely change one's actions, priorities, and choices in the course of making a film.