Wednesday, August 28, 2013

InstaRapFlix #37: Eminem AKA

I can't really use the phrase "binge watching" and then only do one InstaRapFlix post, can I? Well, okay, in honor of Eminem's latest boring comeback or whatever, I've stumbled upon an Eminem documentary called Eminem AKA. That feels like an incomplete title, but maybe it'll make sense when we watch it.  It's from 2004, has a Netflix rating of a whopping single star and clocks in at a very tight 70 minutes. My expectations are good and low, so let's dive in!

Well, right off the bat, we get an illustrated credits sequence that shows somebody put some care and effort into this flick, which is more than I can say about some past InstaBioDocs. It's narrated by Treach, and it quickly becomes apparent that this entire film is being presented like a comic book, with speakers framed in panels, with speech bubbles etc [that's an actual screenshot, right]. Before they make their connection between Eminem and comic books, it feels like a completely random, arbitrary choice of styles. But they do eventually come up with a thesis to tie it all together. He grew up loving comic books... we see (surprisingly good) drawings he made of Spider-Man and Robocop, photos of Halloween costumes he wore as a kid. The film has the president of the Los Angeles Psychiatric Association (why LA, when Em and his family are in Detroit? I guess that's just where the filmmakers were based) talk about how kids growing up with no stability gravitate towards power fantasies like super hero identities. And it's ultimately suggested his various rap persona (Slim Shady, Eminem as opposed to Marshal, etc) are just further iterations of this. It's actually pretty well thought-through.

We first meet Eminem's grandmother. Betty Kresin, who tells a disturbing anecdote about how gleeful she was at the deathbed of her grandmother, telling her she was going to Hell. It's the dark story of an abusive family that certainly lines up with the image Em has painted with his lyrics over the years. We meet Eminem's mother Debbie Nelson-Mathers, who tells us she was sexually assaulted by her stepfather at age 12, "but he didn't get the job complete." Jesus.

Treach's narration is fairly melodramatic (culminating in a ridiculous moment where he raps the judgement of a suit against Em), and the film's eagerness to throw out anecdotes of abuse and broken homes feels a bit trashy and exploitative, like the kind of junk bios you'd see on the E! channel. There's a lot of dishing on his ex, the famous Kim Anne Scott, who we see photos of but who isn't interviewed. In a way, it's like you're getting close to Em in an inappropriate way behind his back. I actually met Eminem back in the days, and this doc made me feel like I was gossiping and hearing stories that should've remained personal. The fact that Em isn't involved himself definitely adds to that; there's plenty of online comments suggesting his family is using this doc to cash in on his success (it even advertises that ridiculous "Dear Marshall" song she recorded with ID-X), and it's hard to make a case against them. But I can't front, it's actually well put together, engrossing, and certainly an infinitely higher quality documentary than I was expecting coming in.

Besides the above mentioned, this film also talks to Em's uncle, first manager, his former roommate, ex-bodyguard (Big Naz, who recorded an Em diss record that I wrote a bit about here), the manager of of a local record shop, two local radio DJs, customers and co-workers at an old lodge he used to work at, a reporter for The Detroit Free Press and two of his mom's friends. Their stories are intercut with quotes from Em's song about his past. And the thrust of the film eventually shifts from his family's dysfunction to his musical origins... his mother was in a band, the first rap song he ever heard was "Reckless" by Chris Taylor and Ice-T, we go from "Back Stabbers" to Scribble Jam.

It's not a great film; but if you're a hardcore fan or just interested in classic, early Em, it's legitimately worth a watch. And if you don't have Netflix, you can get it for a penny on Amazon. I was pleasantly surprised.


  1. Sounds interesting, might have to check it out for only a penny. What did you think about Bezerk?