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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