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...


  1. Agreed. The portrayal of Pac was total bs, but so was most of the other character's portrayal. Decent film, not good, certainly not great.

  2. I agree because there were so many things I wish were included in this movie. They never really mention biggies influences beside him writing raps, the nas and biggie beef that was on the low in NY. The movie was good for people who are just casual listeners, but to hip-hop heads it was a little of a let down. Oh wait Puffy had his hands on this movie, lol

  3. I find it quite -- weird you have pointed out as your major flaw the depiction of what was a one-time friend and major rival in a commercial release about Biggie. Don't get me wrong, it was a VERY noticeable issue but not tot he degree with which you seem to state.
    If this film was trying to be true to the events Puffy's side issues and how they affected Biggie would have been more prevalent.

    To say a major movie about Pac wouldn't sell is laughable at best. It would sell hotcakes at a diabetic convention. But you will have to admit it too will be slanted.

    That slant is what made the rivalry so all encompassing, without it neither story will truly sell it its base audience. What amazes me is that pac's story hasn't made it on screen yet. But given the evidence of how long it took each others respective tribute songs to come out should have been a clue.

  4. How do you portray someone in a movie who spent the last years of his life thinking and acting as if he were a character in a movie?

  5. I am totally agreeing your point of view, very well reasoned...

    1 luv

  6. @Belvedere: A Tupac film could only be developed as a documentary. Tupac: Resurrection followed this formula, and I thought that that was a good film.

    When I said that a Tupac motion picture could never be a success, I didn't mean in terms of money. Like I said, both B.I.G. and 'Pac were commercial successes, and films about them both would rake in big bucks. But whereas a film about B.I.G. is all about glam and Hollywood hype/glitz, a Tupac movie would be too political, too radicall.... in short, too black for Hollywood to stomach.

    Feel me?

    @ Anon #1: Perfect point. Notorious definitely wasn't made with the hip hop head/devotee in mind.

    @ Anon #2: Elaborate.

  7. I havent seen this yet but I will soon. Im wary of the Puffy influence because that usually means being superficial and glossing over anything that isnt positive. I'll look to this movie as light entertainment, a celebration of BIG, but im not expecting to hear all the truths.

    When his mum and Puffy are involved, and people like Kim, Charli and Jay are not then you know its not gonna be balanced. BIG was a woman-beating drug dealer. Im sure the movie wont dwell on these minor details....but I'll watch it before judging.

    I recommend Biggie and Tupac, the documentary by Nick Broomfield. It takes a good look at their 'beef'.

    A Tupac movie would have to be raw to be accurate but im sure they'll do a watered down version for the mainstream.

  8. I haven't seen the movie. But even in the trailer, it seemed like Big acted very meek and humble...a persona I've NEVER seen in any video or interview. I thought they had it wrong from the beginning so I never even bothered to see it.

  9. "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."

    As Dr. Frances Cress Welsing wrote:

    Currently, the players on the Black side of the chessboard are in a continuous state of checkmate (a losing streak that is centuries long). This has happened because of our failure to understand the game.

    soulguru adds: Don't be fooled by the Obama victory, he's still part of the game & playing the "white" side of the chessboard.

    Back to Welsing:
    Heretofore, non-white people have not decoded white genetic survival. (soulguru adds: castrating a TRUE alpha-male like 2Pac)

    Back to Welsing:
    ...I was sensitive to the symbols in the behavior system of white supremacy once it had been defined and decoded.

    ...Symbols communicate from one person's subconscious to the subconscious of another who share the same identity and survival necessity. Such communication transpires at subconsconscious levels when the conscious levels of brain-computer functioning cannot bear to address certain issues. White supremacy is a topic that few can or dare discuss discuss in depth at the conscious level of brain-computer functioning. (soulguru adds: remember the Anons babbling during the Blackbird browser comments?)

    Back to Welsing:
    ...Few dare to probe or research white supremacy as this could lead to the dismantling of the system. ...There will be those who demean the attempt to decode symbols and ridicule their value.

    Isis Papers Introduction, pages X-XII

  10. Preach. Thanks for this valuable comment, soulguru.

  11. The goal of the movie wasnt to portray pac in all lights and follow his story. For the most part he was a hot headed thug and for anyone who has actually seen him in person and in clubs would testify to this. Your an idiot for expecting more.

  12. I understand what you're saying, but point blank, it's B.I.G.'s movie. I'm sure once the Pac film is produced it will be biased in his favor as well. Both men were monumental to the hip-hop universe and their absences are still felt to this day. As far as who was the greatest?..Both. They both were kings of their perspective coasts and inspired millions of people to ride with them.

  13. Here we go again with the "your an idiot" nonsense...

    The irony never ceases to amaze me.

  14. Ivan its all good, people love to be rude and only want to hear their own opinions. We live in a society full of know-it-alls. The goal of the movie was to show Biggie as a saint,rap legend, and a young rapper who lost his life to early.

    The main problem i have with this movie is they do not add detail such as the people who influence him, how the beats were really made, and they did not really show the reasons why Biggie was such a good lyricist such as him being excellent in English actually he was a straight A student, they only showed brief scenes..

  15. Umm, I heard through the grapevine that they were supposed to a film on Marvin Gaye but went with BiG since it would draw more of a crowd. Minstrel show all over again, Viacom/Clear Channel and the rest of these companies ain't depicting us in the best light.
    You seen WatchMen right? How many positive Negro (Black) images did you see in that movie?

  16. @ Anon: Agreed. I would have prefered a more intimate look at B.I.G. rather than all the stardom conflict B.S. ("Mo Money Mo Problems").

    @ Rahsaan: You bring up some good points (I didn't know about the potential Marvin flick), but you can't really blame the film Watchmen for its lack of positive Black characters since it was based on the novel.

  17. 2pac is a icon but big was a lyrical beast. this is just a MOVIE for entertainment purposes. i dont need to see it. just appreciate the music .... its gone downhill since they died

  18. Damn, Pac's scrotum, hop off.......How much of Big did we see in ressurection...the film tried to emasculate Pac by talkin bout where he was shot?..cmon...some people are too Pac touchy...Pac was a great dude...but He did go nuts for a minute....He did go from "brenda's got a baby" to "hit em up"....i think they left alot of stuff out as well, i agree there..but there was no need to make this the "PAC" was about BIG..

  19. i heard they got tony yayo to play krs-one for an upcoming flick on pm dawn.

  20. great points about the Pac portrayal. but i'm surprised you didn't mention Puffy or Voletta Wallace, who both helped produce the film and probably had to approve of every one of their lines. what about the spin on their characters, especially the influence of the ideal maternal force and the business man who knows what the hip hop hustle is all about (what's the puffy line in his first monologue? something like, "I don't make music FOR the streets, i make music about the streets").

    also, i was talking recently to some friends who argue that this movie does a great social service - it humanizes BIG, makes him a loving father who learned "the error of his ways" and tried to make it all right before he was killed. for critics of hip hop, the movie ends with the death of a sinner seeking absolution, not with a "thug"... is that necessary?

  21. ^ Well, I guess you can look at the film's humanizing of B.I.G. as a positive thing. But to me, it might actually be a negative thing. Glossing over the horrible things he did in his life is just... dishonest. I'm not saying he was the devil, but he certainly wasn't no saint.

    The film portrays him as such - a zen-like, fallen saint who later found his way; an almost ethereal presence amongst the backdrop of his friends, family and confidantes.

    I'd expected such corny melodrama and hype from Mr. Diddy.

  22. The reason I saw the bootleg..... I wouldn't give Puff a dime.
    My opinion -Who hurt Hip-Hop? Puff Daddy did.
    Has any artist on Badboy made it 2 second album or third?

    Big=Dead, shine=locked up, G-dep= ??, Mark Curry,Mase, Dream, Black Rob, Craig Mack .... get my drift?

    The only one who's made any real money... is Puffy.
    so fuck him.

  23. April 23, 2009 12:18 AM
    Anonymous said...

    How do you portray someone in a movie who spent the last years of his life thinking and acting as if he were a character in a movie?


  24. ^ Pac haters get the middle finger.

  25. 1st thing, this is B.I.G.'s story, not Pac's. 2nd, i think people who are dissatified with this movie are people who already knows the story. Example, Soulja Boy was only 7 when BIG died, so for this 106 & Park era, this movie will school em and bring em up to speed with what most of us already knew.

  26. The portrayal of 'Pac is very important though, IMO.

    Imagine having a film about John F. Kennedy. Shouldn't the Nixon portrayal be apt and accurate?

  27. It's very clear that you are a Pac fan and I respect that. But you must realize that 'Notorious' should be considered a movie produced by BIG's peoples and not an unbiased documentary based on musical and factual events. There was a whole lot of things that was left out, especially involvement of producers and artists such as Primo, Easy Mo Bee, Jay-Z, Nas, and Wu-Tang that are essential in discussing BIG's career. So fuck this movie and try not to take any offense to Hollywood flicks.

  28. But see, that's my job as a critique of the film. Even though stepping into the theater I knew it'd have Puffy's corny stamp all over it, I still left a shred of hope for the otherwise.

  29. love Puffy or Hate Puffy, He made Christopher Wallace into a household name. Love Pac or Hate Pac, this movie was not called "Pac and Biggie" In the grand sceme of things, had this movie been a 4 hour masterpiece, they probably could have adapted some of the points you are all making, but the fact of the matter is, the movie is about as long as it could possibly be. The relationships with Kim and Faith are more important in showing the human side of Biggie, then his relationships with Jay and or some producers. Again, it was a Movie, a pretty decent movie.

  30. Ivan good review and good points. I was suspicious of this movie as soon as I saw the trailer and you have confirmed my fears. a lot of the time the problem when it comes to making these movies is that you have to get the family to approve the screenplay and they just won't let the negative side of their loved ones life be shown.

    I'd personally like to see a movie where they show how overstating a gangster persona, inflated ego, personal rivalry and keeping bad company cause the loss of life of a million as that is the important moral of the story that people could learn from.