Midway through 2008, something surprising has happened: two films with human dimension and artful expression–Adam Yauch’s Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot and Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness–have flushed the toilet of summer movies. Neither is a special effects extravaganza but they stir emotion by emphasizing the human scale of what movies can show. (See my mid-year round-up below.)
Gunnin’ documents b-ball culture through eight high school basketball prodigies from across the country who participated in the “Elite 24 Hoops Classic.” It took place in 2006 at the street basketball mecca of Harlem’s Rucker Park, on the corner of 155th street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, where stars like Dr. J. and Wilt Chamberlain first began. Reputations (nicknames) and legends are made at Rucker (“It’s where you get tough,” a fan says) and Yauch’s attention to the authentic passion of folk culture makes the movie vibrant. Gunnin’ is everything the fatuous, condescending Hoop Dreams was not.
As in his remarkable Beastie Boys concert film, Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That, Yauch elevates video technology with a hands-on, heart-felt, keen-eyed purpose. A b-ball fan who knows what to look for, he also utilizes the medium to catch fantastic moves: he even turns instant-replay into an art form of amazement and commemoration. The fish-eye lens expresses wide-eyed wonderment at New York life, while a witty scan of internet searches paces background info on the players. In Gunnin’, Yauch’s style has the intellectual and emotional rhythm that DePalma failed to achieve in Redacted.
Most docs are still made according to decades-old models but Gunnin’ has hiphop immediacy and this is not just a matter of technology. Yauch’s feeling for youth culture gives him insight into his subject. Imaginary stats cards for each of the players (Jerryd Bayless, [cq] Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Donte Greene, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Love, Kyle Singler and Lance Stephenson) provide an affectionate motif, but Yauch also conveys how these talented kids get marked for success–hunted by NBA scouts, manufacturers, predatory bloggers and girls. The interview segments are terse but reveal the essence of diverse backgrounds, contrasting suburban genes to ghetto pedigrees. It coalesces different styles of American boyhood; these are the warmest, most recognizable gallery of faces since George Washington.
To read the full article at CityArts click here.
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