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