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

4 thoughts on “5 Sides of a Coin

  1. I agree that the reused footage was pret­ty lame for such a large top­ic. I did how­ev­er like the fact that 5 Sides of a Coin did not tell me what to think about hip hop. What I got from the flick and this is one of Kell’s main points is that hip hop is what it means to you. You don’t have to be from the Bronx to un­der­stand it. It is an expression.…..wait..he did tell me what to think about hip hop.…damn.

  2. first of all, it ain’t “rap­pin’” it’s em­cee­ing.

    sec­ond of all, the film on­ly asks the ques­tion about ‘what hip-hop is’ in the first 5 min­utes. from then on it breaks down the ori­gins of the el­e­ments and shows how they are spokes in the wheel of hip-hop. 

    third­ly, it was an overview of the CULTURE of hip-hop, not a film about mainstream/​commercial RAP MUSIC —  there’s no place in a film about the cul­ture for the likes of p. diddy’s and eminem’s (they would be com­plete­ly out of con­text since they have noth­ing to do with the cul­ture of hip-hop).

    and an­oth­er thing, how is this “edgy in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism” when the sub­jects form­ing this films the­sis are peo­ple from with­in the game and NOT a nar­ra­tor read­ing a writ­ten di­a­tribe by the di­rec­tor? sure may­be dj spooky comes off like a pseudo-in­tel­lec­tu­al, but i can’t re­mem­ber see­ing it any­where else in the film. for me, i thought the di­rec­tor did a good job of let­ting hip-hop speak for it­self, in­stead of tak­ing the lib­er­ty of speak­ing for it. 

    as for the length, i agree it could have gone on longer. but the truth is, there will nev­er be a com­pre­hen­sive film about hip-hop un­less it’s 100 hours long. and even then peo­ple will crit­i­cize that epic for hav­ing left out some­thing.

    what­ev­er — every­body is a crit­ic. or is it more rel­e­vant to use that old say­ing: opin­ions are like ar­se­holes — everyone’s got one.

  3. Hey Franklin, thanks for com­ment­ing. In re­spon­se to your points…

    #1: it ain’t “rap­pin’” it’s em­cee­ing. -
    my bad.

    #2: the film on­ly asks the ques­tion about ‘what hip-hop is’ in the first 5 min­utes. from then on it breaks down the ori­gins of the el­e­ments and shows how they are spokes in the wheel of hip-hop. -
    I agree and dis­agree. The en­tire film is about ‘what hip-hop is’ be­cause it is a film about hip-hop. By break­ing down the ori­gins of the el­e­ments Kell is do­ing some re­verse en­gi­neer­ing and telling his au­di­ence what hip-hop is by show­ing us its dif­fer­ent ‘spokes.’

    #3: it was an overview of the CULTURE of hip-hop, not a film about mainstream/​commercial RAP MUSIC — there’s no place in a film about the cul­ture for the likes of p. diddy’s and eminem’s (they would be com­plete­ly out of con­text since they have noth­ing to do with the cul­ture of hip-hop). -
    I just men­tioned that mainstream/​commercial rap mu­sic has no fo­rum in the film. I made no judg­ment call on that mat­ter. So I agree with you. If you mis­in­ter­pret­ed, I apol­o­gize for not be­ing as clear as I should have been.

    #4: The ‘edgy in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism’ I’m re­fer­ring to has more to do with the con­struc­tion of the film than what is said in it. Kell is who I am re­fer­ring to when I men­tion this in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism. I got a def­i­nite hip-hop hip­ster vibe [if there is such a thing]. I got the feel­ing that the mon­tage and hip-hop ar­cana were meant to blend to­geth­er to ex­am­ine [may­be de­con­struct?] the world that hip-hop emerged from.

    Obviously I’m no ex­pert about any­thing hip-hop but I’m in­ter­est­ed and while it might sound like I’m be­ing de­fin­i­tive, I’m just re­al­ly putting my ideas down.

  4. no of­fense bro, i just think that if you’re go­ing to put your ideas out in­to the world you should flesh them out a lit­tle more. may­be it’s my bad — too many years spent in acadamia fol­low­ing the ba­sic rules of writ­ing a the­sis.

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