Saturday, November 15, 2008

Big Pun: Still Not a Player

Ok. this is not an InstRapFlix write-up, because Netflix doesn't have this for instant viewing, but after reading a lot about this, I wanted to see it and write about it. Big Pun: Still Not a Player is ostensibly your typical "rockumentary," but it's actually better than that. It's co-directed by his wife, after Big Pun's passing, which I've read people mention as a criticism... you know, his wife doing it on the cheap as opposed to getting a "real director." But actually, she manages to immediately get way more personal and in-depth than any of those other rockumentaries.

Yeah, there are flaws... the middle is filled with rappers, major celebrities to the really obscure, all praising Pun in basically the same way, saying the same things... it gets pretty repetitive. And certainly he deserves the praise they give him - there's no denying that he was really talented and did a bunch of really hot records, and there's some great anecdotes about him ripping shows and freestyles, etc. But the film seems a little gutless when not one person interviewed (out of many... this film really got everybody to come together for this project) mentions how much weaker his second album was than his first (not to mention the third, which maybe he can't be blamed for since it was finished after he passed away), and he was in danger of being a lot of rappers with great debuts, from Nas to Wu-Tang (both of whom are featured in this doc, too, by the way), never being able to make a record as good as their first. According to this doc, everything he recorded was equally genius, and that's all there is to be said about that.

And there are technical weaknesses, too. The music (the soundtrack, not Pun's records) sounds very library-ish and falsely manipulative. No one wrote any great score for this. And since every interview seems to have been shot from a single camera set-up, they made a lot of fake close-ups in the editing stage... so the picture quality gets really crappy whenever they cut in close. When you hear Errol Morris describe how he was the first to use a newly invented camera to get special ultra-slow motion close-up photography in his latest film, well.... clearly no one on this project is operating on that kind of level of filmmaking.

But who cares? Errol Morris himself would tell you that a million flashy camera angles and expensive equipment isn't worth trading for an ounce of genuine substance from an interview, and that's what this doc has. From frank discussions of his mother's drug problems, to his parenting, food addiction, etc., everyone really opens up. His wife, sister, grandmother and friends are all surprisingly open about how he abused his wife, etc. - amazingly, there's even footage of it. This is no VH1 half-hour quickie full of soft-ball questions and stock footage; it's a serious documentary on Big Pun.

When the film gets to his health problems and eventual death... which so many people speak on, from relatives to celebrities like Ice-T, all on a personal level; it's genuinely moving. There's not much concert or music video footage... it's 95% talking heads (even his doctor is interviewed), and 5% footage from home movies and footage like that. And it's possibly the best hip-hop movie to date.

...The DVD also has some nice extras. Two vintage interviews with Pun that last a good 15-20 minutes each, a segment with his sister going through their family photos reminiscing, a new interview with his wife on domestic violence, an interview with the other director, stills gallery, trailer, and a live performance clip of Pun and Fat Joe doing their version of "Deep Cover" (it says "Live Performances," but it's just the one). Definitely one to look out for.

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