Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Big Beef With 'Notorious'

After watching Notorious for a second time, I’ve still got a few complaints I’d like to get off my chest. First off, I’ve gotta say that the depiction of Tupac in the film, while mellow for a biopic of his so-called rival, was riddled with mockery and disregard. A particular scene in which the only dialogue coming from ‘Pac is “Westside, nigga, Westside” (repeatedly) strikes a chord; but I also felt it was pretty crummy to highlight the detail that ‘Pac was shot just above his testicles. I took this as a deliberate attempt to castrate and emasculate ‘Pac’s character as the male inferior to B.I.G.’s superior alpha male imagery. Of course, this is all symbolism, and being that this was just a movie about a rapper – as opposed to a classic, award-garnering masterpiece – perhaps there’s not quite so much room for deep interpretation. My objection still remains.

I also found it dissatisfactory that whilst ‘Pac was portrayed as nothing more but a hot-headed thug, B.I.G. was portrayed as a humble, zen-like figure. It’s clear that the people around B.I.G.’s life were deeply involved in the development of Notorious. The story is told strictly from an autobiographical point of view, as opposed to a balanced, historical retelling of the mid-‘90’s East Coast/West Coast beef. Just as he did with B.I.G.’s music, Puffy’s corny imprint is all over this film, for better or for worse. Mostly for worse. Full of melodrama, Notorious makes a big hoopla over the woman in B.I.G.’s life, treating the scenario as a giant headache to overcome. But what was going on in ‘Pac’s life during this segment? Off-duty officer shot down. Trial. Rape case. Trial. Jail time. Shots fired… Mortality proven.

After ‘Pac was gunned down in the recording studio’s lobby, the film portrays him as a delusional, violent thug. B.I.G. is treated as the victim, due to his innocence. Personally, I don’t believe that B.I.G. was involved in the shooting, and the film does a great job of documenting B.I.G.’s grief. But let’s remember who the victim truly was here. ‘Pac was the one who took those shots. He even had the strength to give the camera the middle finger whilst he was being hauled off into an ambulance. It’s no surprise to note that I find 2Pac to be the superior of the two. Not simply for his music, but for his message. Both of these men liked to flash their achievements and live large. But raised against a backdrop of crooked cops and Black Panthers, ‘Pac had a grittiness that B.I.G. could never possess.

Despite my grievances over Notorious’ handling of 2Pac’s side of the story, I can’t help but note the film’s value in portraying the rags-to-riches story of Christopher Wallace. The film is a commercial-level success because it documents the life of a commercial-level artist, the Notorious B.I.G. Though 2Pac himself achieved great commercial standing – more so than B.I.G, in fact – I don’t believe that a biopic would ever be able to truly capture his life story – neither from a West or East Coast angle. A documentary perhaps, but certainly not a big-budget film like Notorious. Maybe I’m wrong.

To cap things off, I’d also like to make note of the fact that any influence of Jay-Z or The Lox in B.I.G.’s life is decidedly cut out of the film. The presence of these emcees isn’t felt in the slightest, not even making any brief appearance(s). It would have seemed fitting if you ask me… The final verdict is that putting all flaws aside, I’d still recommend you check out Notorious – that is, if you haven’t already.

Notorious is in stores now.

P.S. "Big Beef"? No homo...