Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

This Is the Life: How the West Was One (I think they over-reached for puns by one there) is the new documentary on The Good Life, the LA hip-hop venue and the movement it spawned. And I'm happy to say it's definitely worth checking out.

A whole heap of Good Lifers are interviewed, and there's a lot of vintage footage on hand. They interview the owners, some regulars, and a ton of artists like PEACE, 2Mex, BusDriver, Medusa, Cut Chemist and a whole ton more. For someone like me, who's familiar with The Good Life artists and music but was never actually there, it's a bit of a revelation to finally see what it was like inside what was essentially a health food store with a stage.

Everyone interviewed is happy to share and seem to have a lot to say. They talk about how it got started, different artists who came up, the origins of Ganjah K's super0huge bong, the time Fat Joe got booed off-stage, when Freestyle Fellowship first got a major label deal, etc etc. And they constantly strike just the right balance between interview and performance footage. There's no fancy CGI effects bullshit or pointless shout-outs clips like most of the junky docs I cover in my InstaRapFlix series (heh). Just simple, quality content.

But it's not flawless. After you've passed the halfway mark, the film starts to get a bit redundantly formulaic. Pick an artist and everybody talks about how brilliant he is for five minutes, then move on to another one. No one has anything to say about anyone else besides "brilliant," "genius," "wonderful," etc. It basically turns into one big, shameless stroke session. And topics like why many of these artists weren't able to transition their freestyle skills to making quality records - or basically anything that isn't 100% ego-inflating - are artfully dodged. And this would've been easier to excuse if they were being comprehensive and managed to document everybody, but there's still plenty of great artists who were left out.

But stick around for the DVD extras, because a lot of what goes South in the film is right here!

There are several full sequences in the deleted scenes that are much meatier and more important than a lot of what's actually dragging the film down. There's a great segment on The Nonce, covering the time their record "Mix Tapes" became a hit to the moment they found Yusef's body mysteriously left on the side of the freeway. It's by far the most emotional moment of the film... I can see why they cut that out! Wait, what?

Other important topics they cover in the deleted scenes but leave out of the film are the spreading of Good Lifers' music through tape-trading across the world and how everybody came together for the classic Project Blowed album. Seriously, I'm a fan of Medusa and Figures of Speech, and was glad to see them in the film; but I would've been happy to see 20 redundant shots of guys all marvelling at how the ladies are both attractive and talented disappear, in order to fit these much more historically relevant and compelling topics in. It's a little frustrating to think that with a decent re-edit, a good film could've been a great film. But at least it's all there for anyone who's got the DVD.

Then there's the the bonus footage which wouldn't have fit in the film, but is still great to have as DVD extras. There's a segment called More Mikah, which is just that: more interview time with him, more performance footage, etc. And then there's a 50-minute long collection of performances shot at The Good Life. It's all shaky VHS camera stuff shot from somewhere in the audience, so the quality isn't amazing (sound or picture), but there's some great material, including performances by a lot of artists not featured anywhere else on the disc (like Ahmad springs to mind).

It's a nice package for a good movie... definitely worth your time.

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