5 Sides of a Coin

Last night I was sur­prised with a tick­et to see 5 Sides of a Coin at the Cleve­land Film Fes­ti­val. Direct­ed by Paul Kell, this too-short doc­u­men­tary con­cerns itself with five areas of hip-hop: rap­pin’, scratchin’, breakin’, beat­box­in’ and graf­fi­ti. I enjoyed the film for what it was, but I think it was lack­ing in quite a few areas. The film aims for an edgy intel­lec­tu­al­ism bent on debunk­ing the pop­u­lar opin­ion of hip-hop; at least I think that is what it does. The film presents a refresh­ing look at an art­form that isn’t based on mate­ri­al­is­tic suc­cess, vio­lent pos­tur­ing and sex­u­al prowess. Instead we have thought­ful, sin­cere tes­ti­monies from the some of the folks who made this kind of music from before it had a name. At least ini­tial­ly.

The film moves on rather quick­ly through all five sides of the coin with rapid­fire blurbs from many of under­ground hip-hop’s finest. But it seems like these folks were only asked the same ques­tions. What does [insert rap­pin’, scratchin’, breakin’, beat­box­in’, graf­fi­ti or a person’s name here] mean to you? The most main­stream and suc­cess­ful rap­pers have no forum in this film. Eminem and Tupac are men­tioned once. Snoop Dogg is men­tioned briefly, but only as a stag­ing plat­form to intro­duce the amaz­ing­ly preachy C. Dolores Tuck­er. She uses Snoop Dogg as an exam­ple for every­thing that is wrong in hip-hop; specif­i­cal­ly cit­ing a case where a boy shot his three year-old sis­ter pre­tend­ing to be the Dog­gfa­ther.

This is fol­lowed up by some guy [they all mashed togeth­er after awhile but I believe this one was the most suc­cinct and elo­quent of the bunch] say­ing that he could rec­om­mend some hip-hop­pers to her that would prob­a­bly change her mind. Artists with pos­i­tive mes­sages.

Tech­ni­cal­ly the film is very well put togeth­er. The music, nec­es­sar­i­ly dri­ves much of the feel -and is very good. The docu feel is pret­ty stan­dard and mon­tage is used pret­ty exten­sive­ly. Some of the mon­tage footage is obvi­ous­ly reused which gives me the impres­sion that per­haps Kell didn’t have as much good con­tent as he thought he did. Also con­tribut­ing to this hypoth­e­sis is the film’s length.

Sud­den­ly, sev­en­ty min­utes in, the movie ends. This is my biggest beef. Anoth­er twen­ty to thir­ty min­utes would have made all the dif­fer­ence for me. It would have pro­vid­ed a chance for Kell to flesh things out a bit more in all areas. Instead of telling me what to think about hip-hop or telling me to think about hip-hop 5 Sides of a Coin leaves me bereft — wait­ing for some sort of clo­sure. While it is great to watch in the end I feel that Kell was more con­cerned with mak­ing the film look good instead of mak­ing the con­tent excel. This is nev­er a good thing when you are doing a doc­u­men­tary. I still had a damn good time though.

  • Film Threat review
  • Also Play­ing at: SXSW
  • Crazy flash site about the film