Thursday, August 20, 2015

The End of the Tour and Straight Outta Compton

                        Exploring Darker Realms of the Arts
                                              Review by Ken Burke
                          The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt)
Based on real events, this is a cognitively/emotionally intense recounting of the short relationship between famed author David Foster Wallace on his latest book tour and author/reporter David Lipsky in 1996 as these men explore creativity, success (and its problems), friendship, and trust in a story with very little action but lots of worthwhile contemplation.
                          Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray)
An attempt at chronicling the complex merger (then breakup) of talent that constituted the “gangsta” rap group N.W.A. in the late 1980s-early ‘90s, as 5 talented but troubled musicians attempted to share their anger about racial discrimination and police brutality in their LA surroundings, leading to great success but infighting then pushed them into separate careers.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
What Happens: While there aren’t a lot of surface similarities between the 2 films up for consideration in this posting, I do think there are connections in the treatment of famous artists and their relationship to the pain associated with their various successes, whether that disruption comes from inner turmoil (as depicted in The End of the Tour) or external pressures (as depicted in Straight Outta Compton) so I’ll attempt a combo review here, focusing on the ultimate overlaps while noting the obvious differences in content and approach.  However, in that neither of these scenarios are all that familiar to my personal experiences I’ll start with the specifics of the one that I can best relate to, The End of the Tour, not because I’ve ever been (or known) a famous author—nor have I worked in the offices of Rolling Stone or any other culturally-significant publication (although some could make an argument that such a description applies to Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark—with the understanding that those who do so are usually allowed outside of the sanitarium only on holidays)—but because I’ve spent a good bit of my life (so far, that is; as the musty joke goes, Young Man: “Hey, old man, have you lived here all your life?”  Old Man: “Not yet.” [a rejoinder also used to fantastic effect in the Seinfeld TV episode, “The Pitch” [1992, 4th season, 3rd episode] where George is making the case that the series idea he and Jerry are proposing to NBC would succeed, despite its mundane content, because “It’s on television,” to which network president Russell Dalrymple simply replies: “Not yet,” a joke that David Foster Wallace seems like he’d have appreciated, given his interest in popular culture’s narcotizing ability, as explored by his book, Infinite Jest) in academic settings, such as the one where Wallace (Jason Segal) teaches (in the film he lives in Bloomington, IL, or at least in the snowy outskirts; the real Wallace taught at Illinois State U. in Normal, right next door, so there’s seemingly not much fictionalization happening so far; as it all gets more intimate between the 2 men I can’t really know without reading Lipsky’s book about these events); despite his increasing fame as a novelist with the publication of Infinite Jest (1996) neither his location in the middle of the Midwest nor his discomfort with having to abandon his classes for a couple of weeks while on tour with his book give any sense of literary nor academic stardom, another aspect of his life that I can relate to, given that I rarely cancelled a class, even when I had to take red-eye-flights to conferences that began the next day.

 Admittedly, though, I can relate just as much to minor author/current (in 1996 that is) Rolling Stone reporter, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) in this story, as he’s legitimately fascinated with Wallace’s literary ability but also is envious of his success, wishing that his own novel, The Art Fair (1996, same year as Infinite Jest, and with a lot of actual critical praise, but you’d never know that from this film), had attracted even some of the attention given to Wallace so that he could establish a career writing hardcover fiction rather than having to convince a magazine editor to take a chance on an article about a type of artist that this socio-musical-publication had never bothered to explore.  Lipsky’s finally given permission to meet Wallace (wrestling with early fame at age 34), then spend 5 days with him as the book tour comes to closure in Minneapolis (where they’re driven around by eternally-sunny-even-if-she-can-barely-stand-it Patty the publicist [Joan Cusack, marvelous even in such a minor role]).  Certainly when I was a functional, well-respected-enough Film Studies prof (emeritus now that I’m retired, droning on in a film-review-blog instead of a classroom) at Mills College (small student population, liberal-arts orientation, for women only at the undergrad level), Oakland, CA, I had obscure visions of being more significant in my field, somehow being the one that others looked up to rather than simply doing such looking (this is clearly the message you get about Lipsky from this film script, although his real career has been quite notable, with his non-fiction Absolutely American [2003] getting many honors as being among the Best Books of the Year, as did NPR so name his account of his brief time with Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself [2010], which serves as the foundation for this screenplay; he’s still a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone [although the article on Wallace was never published], as well as a creative writing teacher at New York University’s prestigious MFA program).  So, with just that much to attempt to attach my interests to, I found myself fascinated by the eloquent dialogue and interpersonal investigations that Lipsky and Wallace do of each other in this film, although I can’t say that I learned enough about either of them; still, when all you have invested in another person is a mere 5 days you don’t have much time to delve very deeply, nor does it necessarily leave you with enough to construct a satisfactory cinematic story on without some creative elaboration.

 The story arc is about LIpsky, beginning in his cluttered dwelling where in 2008 he receives the phone call about Wallace’s depression-fueled-suicide (he’d been on an 8-day-watch for this earlier, tells Lipsky he felt his life was over at 28), then moving for most of the film through the flashback of their spate of intense interactions, concluded by a brief reading from his Although of Course … account of their encounter (with an interesting final-credits-interruption-scene of Wallace alone talking about “just me and him” into Lipsky’s tape recorder), yet the focus of the film is on Wallace, along with Segal’s marvelous portrayal of this creative, introspective, oddball character (wounded by a failed romantic relationship, living in isolation with his 2 beloved dogs [whom he now prefers to dating, despite his unrequited need for a companion, especially his crush on singer Alanis Morissette] generous with his time and material sharing with Lipsky—puts him up in the spare bedroom rather than letting him stay at a local motel [oddly stacked with publishers’ copies of various books, even though Infinite Jest was just his second novel; maybe they were gifts in recognition for the fame that …Jest was drumming up] and encouraging their mutual late-night-scarfing of Diet Pepsi and junk food [along with their constant cigarettes, although Lipsky also swigged a goodly portion of alcohol, not shared by Wallace, likely to prevent interactions with anti-depression-medication]).  What keeps this narrative interesting is how, even within their seemingly-instant-rapport, neither of these guys is truly predictable nor completely open to the other but instead are at times consumed by their own private needs.

 Lipsky’s always looking for some beyond-the-recorded-conversations-information to make his article more embellished—if not lurid (on the record he asks Wallace about his reported one-time-heroin-addiction, which draws a fierce denial response)—poking around in Wallace’s medicine cabinet, giving himself a concise, private catalogue on his hand-held-tape-recorder of Wallace’s living environment, noting random details that might better inform his final text.  Wallace suddenly becomes possessive of an old friend (possibly girlfriend, although he doesn’t introduce her as such) from graduate school, Betsy (Mickey Summer), when he perceives Lipsky hitting on her (his defense is that he’s simply getting her email address for a follow-up interview for the article) rather than taking what Wallace seems to assume is the more reasonable avenue of exploring a connection with her friend, Julie (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter [you can easily see the resemblance] who’s currently competing with herself for ticket sales just as she’s competing with her own Mom as feuding mother-daughter characters in Ricki and the Flash [Jonathan Demme]; interestingly enough, her character in that movie’s also named Julie), although he’s mostly furious with Lipsky for interest in either of these Minneapolis ladies given that he knows Lipsky has a girlfriend, Sarah (Anna Chlumsky), back home in Manhattan.  This leads to a bitter parting between the 2 men, with Wallace’s only peace offering as they separate being a warning to Lipsky that the life of fame's not all it’s cracked up to be, that the famous may be the ones to crack (as Wallace ultimately does 12 years later, hanging himself after many other acclaimed writings, many of them non-fiction).

 There’s also the death of a major character in our other based-in-reality-cinematic-spotlight-feature this week, Straight Outta Compton, that of N.W.A. (Niggas Wit Attitude, a no-apology-stance by these outsider rap performers) founding member, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), of AIDS complications toward the end of the film, just as 2 other key members of then-disbanded-group, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., son of the actual rapper/movie star), and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) have finally agreed to put their previous hostilities aside and literally “get the band back together” in the mid-1990s.  Given all of their mutual accessibilities to weapons and bodyguards (as well as the actual East Coast-West Coast 1991-1997 hip hop rivalry that resulted in the deaths of Tupac Shakur [1996] and The Notorious B.I.G. [1997], with both killings still unsolved) it’s a wonder that no one else associated with N.W.A. ended up in the morgue even within the short span of this film (1986-1995) because hostilities ran high, fueled by goading from managers Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) with N.W.A. and Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor) of Death Row Records, who lured Dr. Dre away from his former bandmates, after Dre had participated in the public dissing of Ice Cube once he left the group in 1989, frustrated about Heller’s managerial tactics.  In those few early years of N.W.A.’s success, though, everyone was clearly on the same side, at least as far as working together as a coherent unit to get their anger-fueled, anti-discrimination, anti-harassment message out to the public at large.  (Although Jerry is portrayed as being much more in league with Easy-E [his co-founder of Ruthless Records] at the expense of the other 4 in the ensemble—the remaining ones being DJ Yella [Neil Brown] and MC Ren [Aldis Hodge], with the latter, like Ice Cube, responsible for writing much of what the group sang although the royalties distribution set up by Heller didn’t reflect that, a major cause of Cube’s decision to go solo [quite successfully, in both the music and movie worlds, with his notable serious role in Boyz N the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)—also the name of an Eazy-E song on the debut 1987 album N.W.A. and the Posse—followed by more comic personas in the Friday, Barbershop, and Are We There Yet? series (respectively directed by Gray [1985], Steve Carr [2000], Marcus Raboy [2002]; Tim Story [2002], Kevin Rodney Sullivan [2004]; Brian Levant [2005], Carr [2007]), as well as other notable dramatic and comedic roles].)  

 In Straight Outta Compton, Dre and Cube came together in 1986 with a desire to merge their talents but needed financial backing to get a single cut, so they turn to E and his drug money, bring in Yella and Ren, soon find themselves upward bound but needing better management, provided by Heller (who does stand up for them against police harassment, as shown by a scene where cops suddenly descend on them just because the 5 Black guys are standing out on the city sidewalk, taking a break from their recording session, although his ultimate concern is for them to become a financial success, no matter how that may interact with their arguments about free speech).

 Success, in the form of the 1998 Straight Outta Compton album ultimately breeds contempt, though, as Cube splits off on his own, only to be crudely dissed in the next N.W.A. release, causing him to respond in a similarly-obscene-manner on his next album, all of which stirred further mutual resentment, followed by a decision by group bodyguard Knight to form his own label, fronted by Dr. Dre (and, ultimately, new discovery, Snoop Dogg [Keith Stanfield]), but that first required his contract release from Ruthless, an action that comes after a “ruthless” process in the recording studio where Knight’s thugs beat Easy-E into submission (the actual Knight denies this happened, but given his various—and current—legal problems about violent acts of this nature I’m not sure that he’s got much “credible deniability” to work with here).  Time goes on, all of the former N.W.A. members—along with Snoop Dogg—enjoy various levels of successful careers, followed by reconciliation between Cube and Dre (based on the commonality that they’ve both left Jerry Heller’s orbit) with the goal of a group reunion that depends on finding a way to work with E again (which becomes available when E fires Heller for embezzlement), only to have that option shot down when his sickness suddenly comes upon him.  He deteriorates, then dies, leaving us with the impression that the rest of the group reformed for some new recordings ad/or concerts, although that never happened; the only more-or-less N.W.A. reunion concerts were from the 2000 Up in Smoke tour, headlined by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, with performances by Ice Cube and MC Ren (plus Dre’s disciple, Eminem)—all of whom you get glimpses of in actual footage of them shown at Straight Outta Compton’s conclusion (which also allows us to see, within the semi-fictional recounting, Dre breaking away from Death Row, to form his own company, Aftermath Entertainment).

So What? In the case of The End of the Tour the most important aspect of this film is how the 2 main characters enter into lively, thoughtful, mature conversations about the creation of written art, the need to find something more substantial in our culture than the distractions of constant offerings from mass-media-machines (a much more all-consuming phenomenon 20 years later with the addition of the Internet to the already-all-pervasive presence of TV, video games, movies, pop print publications, etc.).  However, you’ve got to be open to this intellectual exploration being the driving force of the film or else it’ll probably just feel like My Conversations with David (depending on which David you’re most interested in listening to), an imaginary-sequel to the completely-conversation-bound-2-actor-tour-de-force My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle, 1981).  At a certain level, this intended-engagement-strategy of The End of the Tour worked well because—whether this dialogue is the result of the many cassette-taped-transcriptions of the actual discussions between Lipsky and Wallace or has been brought to this level of erudite intrigue by scriptwriter Donald Margulies—it was fascinating to watch 2 writers butt their respective hesitant-but-abrasive and withdrawn-but-grasping personalities against each other to see what would result.  However (and this may just be within my shortcomings as an observer of this very unusual premise for a feature film), if Infinite Jest was such a game-changing masterpiece in its era—with its somewhat futuristic setting, sharp level of satire, and challenges to the novel’s conventions with such devices as endless endnotes—then I’d like to have found more about this seemingly-profound-book worked into the story, especially given that we know that Lipsky was impressed with it (for its content and approach, not just because of its material and intellectual success) and that Wallace was impacted by its reception, enough so that it seemed to worry him as to whether he dared write anything else or not, as well as being upset that the Rolling Stone article would be shaped by someone else rather than himself.  

 Thus, rather than having to look up summaries and analyses of this milestone book (which, admittedly, I’d never heard of—nor Wallace for that matter—before this film; although, that’s nobody’s fault but my own because I’m rarely in tune with what’s the happening trend in current literary circles), I’d like to have had it integrated into the film more, discussed, probed, just so that those of us without prior knowledge or understanding of Wallace and his importance to the contemporary writers of the world could get a better idea of why he’d ever have been a likely subject for Rolling Stone to begin with.  I realize that I have to accept the premise of his notable presence for The End of the Tour to matter to me at all, but when it was all over I’m still not quite sure what moved Lipsky so much about this enigmatic, depressive, fundamentally-sad man.

 Another aspect shared by these 2 films is that both depend on the perspectives of just some of the participants in the drama being explored, so that while Wallace emerges as the more important member of the … Tour twosome, what we’re getting has been shaped by Lipsky (as recast by Margulies, then honed into final shape by the actors, director, and editor as the completed film comes together) so we’re not getting a balanced account of these initially-close-then-competitively-soured-individuals but instead are understanding Wallace as he was understood by Lipsky.  Similarly, with Straight Outta Compton we have an account of 7 major characters in the N.W.A. saga (Easy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, MC Ren, Jerry Heller, Suge Knight) but 3 of the primary producers here are the actual Dre, Cube, and Tomica Woods-Wright, widow of E (played by Carra Patterson) so once again major players in the real story are heavily involved in how it will be told, so we just have to hope that what we get on screen is viable in terms of inclusion, exclusion, emphasis, and implication.  Already there are oppositional voices citing notable omissions, such as Dee Barnes' claim of physical abuse of women (including herself) by Dr. Dre.  As one of the record executives in the film says, “I don’t know anything about rap,” which certainly applies to me as well, with my only exposures being multiple viewings of Boyz N the Hood (I showed it on a regular basis in my Film in American Society class), Eminem’s 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson, 2002), and the occasional TV performance by somebody or other, usually on Saturday Night Live, so my response to Straight Outta Compton may be way off-base, possibly should be taken with however much salt you need to totally dissolve it or whatever.

 But I must say that despite the furious passion the filmmakers bring to their subject here, the marvelous sense of embraced-response they show of audiences toward these so-called “gangsta rappers” (what they illuminate about the treatment of people of color by a scared, threatened White-power-structure helps clarify who the real gangsters often are in our society, at least at the top levels more so than those involved with street crime and person-to-person-deaths), and the no-holds-barred-lyrics of N.W.A. which directly name and challenge what they refuse to tolerate any longer (although they’re fighting back with consciousness-raising-social-commentary rather than the armed militias of the much-earlier-Black Panthers)—all of which are commendable in attempting to undermine the secondary status that these disenfranchised LA citizens have had imposed on them—the overall result comes across to me as at times just too hagiographic in support of these social-justice-crusaders as well as pushy-melodramatic in terms of internal conflicts within the N.W.A. and the external conflicts created by their dubious managers.  Possibly the biggest problem is trying to condense the complexity of so many lives and directions—which naturally overlap the 1991 Rodney King situation with its resulting all-cops-not-guilty-trial (although a subsequent 1993 federal violation of civil rights trial did result in jail time for 2 of the 4 assaulters) coupled with the 1992 “No Justice No Peace” riot-response from a stunned, justifiably-angry Black community—into even a slightly-longer-than-usual 2 ½ hr. film.  It’s a noble effort that’s being received well by critics and audiences, but for a novice to this material such as me there’s just too much crammed in to properly hold together as well as some of the individual scenes do.

Bottom Line Final Comments: The life of the mind, as explored in some extremely-well-crafted-interpersonal-interactions in The End of the Tour is potentially a fascinating, intriguing subject to watch unfold on screen when carried off well (as it is here) by top-flight-actors (especially Segal, demonstrating that light romantic comedy isn’t all that he can totally command), but, truly, I just found it a bit too esoteric overall.  David Foster Wallace makes it clear that, despite his fame and admitted intellect, he never wants to lose his “regular guy” credentials, that even that constant bandana on his head (which he began to use while writing in the heat of the Southwest as a means of keeping sweat off of this face, then he retained as a kind of personalized-security-blanket) is about the simple oddity that a plainspoken person would unselfconsciously manifest, not some artistic affectation.  David Lipsky, on the other hand, insists that when a reader makes the decision to plunge into a 1,079-page, 3 lb. 3 oz. book you expect something special, something that emerges from a superior intellect; if that’s true, though, I still want to understand better what was in that book to bring about such an admiring reaction.  Yes, I want to know this in the context of this film (beyond Wallace’s self-evaluation, of “Why do we feel so empty?”) rather than as something I research on my own (which I’m willing to do anyway, and have done in pursuit of writing a review that offers both you and me better substance here), but that’s to make the film more complete, more expository about what it was in this novel that drew such attention and adulation, not because I just refuse to do research on matters unknown to me.  (In fact, if I didn’t do all the digging around on the Internet that I do before I write an analysis of a complex film such as this one—or one with a lot of unfamiliar content for me as with … Compton—I’d be able to save several hours of blog time a week, but it’s not about background research, it’s about what makes a film feel better resolved, more in command of itself; in this case I think we need to understand in more clarified examination what it is that’s driving the fascination with Infinite Jest as well as what allows its author to bring forth such a compelling written experience from the depths of his disturbed psyche.)  

 Anyway, that’s my not-quite-4-stars-complaint about The End of the Tour, at least until I read that monstrous book which might change my attitude about what this film chose to do with Wallace's tome and its account of the author (my better-read-than-me-wife, Nina, ordered it for us so I’ll get back to you in about 10 years when I’ve finished reading it), although I can’t believe that director Ponsoldt really expected his potential audience to be familiar with this weighty novel before seeing his film or else it’d probably have grossed even less than the $405,650 (much less than half of its budget) earned in the 3 weeks it’s been out.  The film has to work on its own for those who know Infinite Jest and the vast majority who don’t.  For me, the interactive-all-dialogue-all-the-time-approach of My Dinner with Andre accomplishes this task whereas The End of the Tour needs to keep us on its road a little longer to completely connect (if you’d like to know more about Wallace, here’s a place to start; you can also explore the links for this film below to watch the real Lipsky talking at length about his brief but very-consequential-time together with the famed writer).

 Conversely, regarding Straight Outta Compton no one should even attempt to argue the ongoing relevance of still-unresolved-race-relations in contemporary American society (and knowing what I read about violent conflicts and discrimination between the White/Mestizo majorities and the Native and other-ethnicity-citizens of Canada and Latin America, I freely use the term “American” here to refer to the whole of the Western Hemisphere, not just the USA) where we still have to be reminded constantly that “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “Why am I being stopped for not signaling a lane change?”  Even in my own supposedly-liberal-bastion of the San Francisco Bay area there’s another addition to that growing litany of law-enforced-brutality as several SF cops pinned down a homeless Black man with a prosthetic leg, handcuffing him as his rear end was exposed to the world for several minutes before he was taken away—certainly nowhere nearly as bad as the deaths from the other incidents and many more like them just alluded to but still indicative of the unbalanced encounters between aggressive White police and Black victims of their actions that are now much more known and debated because of cell-phone/mandated-police-cameras—even though as a society we’ve been well aware in mass-media-coverage for over half a century how dangerous it can be in many parts of our societies to commit the “crime” of being non-White.  (A useful addition to my previous review of the Brando semi-autobiography, Listen to Me Marlon [Stevan Riley; review in our August 13, 2015 posting] notes in great detail how some members of the dominant culture, such as Brando despite his unconventional lifestyle not always accepted by his dominant countrymen either, have also made efforts to publicize the plight of the oppressed.)

 Therefore, Straight Outta Compton is a story that still needs to be told for the 30-year continuity to the present it provides (made all the more emphatic with use of news clips from the era of the film, showing us how naïve we could be during those long-ago-years), making it clear that for many US citizens who’re still perceived as threatening to the established power structure (or who are simply hated because of their very existence)—whether they were part of the nascent integration movements of the 1950s, the full-blown Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, or the ongoing attempts to disclaim a non-existent “post-racial” US society from the 1970s onward to today—the struggle for justice, equal treatment under the law, and respect from their neighbors (compromised at times by the crimes committed by some of the dispossessed, such as violent actions that have accompanied the nationwide Occupy movement, that work to negate acceptance of law-abiders) is a reality in a society where far too many representatives of our various branches of law enforcement have taken it upon themselves to act as if they were US marshals in the Old West, making life-or-death-decisions on the spot, often shooting first, leaving no opportunity to ask questions later.

 But don’t get me wrong here, I’m not across-the-board-anti-police—just as Ice Cube explains to a reporter in the film that he’s not anti-Semitic, it’s just that he hates a specific Jew, Jerry Heller, for purely personal reasons; please know that my late uncle, Wayland Courtney, whom I admired and respected, was a successful Ft. Worth, TX police detective for many decades so I honor good cops in any jurisdiction in this country, but there’s getting to be far too much evidence of the not-good-ones, who are just barely starting to be held accountable for their grotesque actions.  Still, as much as I support the N.W.A. decision to fight back against what they, their families, and neighbors experienced on an all-too-frequent basis—“Our art is a reflection of our reality!”—these guys in this film are depicted as almost-blameless-warriors-for-social-justice, which many in their communities may understand them to be, but even the little I know of their lyrics reflects aspects of racism against non-Blacks, misogyny toward women of their own communities, and outright rejection of a society that I (admittedly, as an older, White male who’s only spent 1 night in jail in his life and never had to kowtow to anyone just because of my physical features) want to see reformed rather than destroyed, yet these complications with what N.W.A. stood for and how they may have acted as individuals make for a more involved story than what we get here, difficult as it is to tell within the confines of a movie that the average audience member likely doesn’t want to invest 3 or more hours in.  Theirs is a rich, involved reality that this film makes a lot of progress in exploring, but as a fully-formed-presentation of this tension-filled-chapter of American history, I don’t think it’s as completely successful as it might be despite the generally strong performances by all of the principal actors and the dynamic recreation of what those heart-and-soul-pounding-concerts must have been like for performers and audiences alike.  

 I could easily be the one in the minority here, though, because, partly with the massive opening weekend domestic grosses ($60.2 million) for Straight Outta Compton, Universal Pictures has now become the studio with the fastest achievement of the $2 billion-box-office-mark within a single year (helped along by their other hits, Jurassic World [Colin Trevorrow; review in our June 17, 2015 posting], Furious 7 [James Wan; review in our April 15, 2015 posting], Minions [Pierre Coffin], Pitch Perfect 2 [Elizabeth Banks], and Fifty Shades of Grey [Sam Taylor-Johnson; review in our February 26, 2015 posting]—they also set a worldwide record, becoming the 1st studio to gross $5.53 billion in a single year [more details here if you like]).  Obviously, Straight Outta Compton is ringing true with a lot of filmgoers—with considerable respect from me as well—but I sense a little too much self-justification, a little too much propaganda overall with this film.  However, if you’d like to know more about N.W.A., here’s a major site on who they are, what they’ve done, and other things you might want to learn about or refresh yourself on concerning this powerfully-important group of social-activist-artists who strived to expose their audiences to “the strength of street knowledge.”  (Plus, you might be interested in these comments from Ava DuVernay [director of Selma (2014); review in our January 15, 2015 posting, a film more completely functional as a 4-star-experience for me] shared about her experience in watching  … Compton—overall her response’s more fully-positive than mine and more informed as she grew up in Compton when it all happened, but she’s got the advantage of having the context that I needed for the film to provide for me, hence my hesitation about 4 stars this time; again, maybe that’s my problem more than the film’s.  Thanks to long-time-friend and Blog Member Meryl Phillips-Miller for sending me to DuVernay’s link to present to you.)

 As we get into the realm of my usual Musical Metaphors to give some additional commentary/ consideration to the 2 films under review this week, I’ll start with The End of the Tour and offer The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” (a hit single in 1966, later appearing on various compilation albums: Hey Jude [1970], 1962-1966 [1973], Past Masters, Volume Two [1988], and 1 [2000; a collection of The Beatles’ #1 hit singles in the UK and/or the US]) at (I'll admit that I’ve used this one before; I try to avoid repetition as to not bore my legions of constant readers but some tunes are just too relevant to a topic to ignore); I’m not sure of the circumstances of this video, although I know it wasn’t the official one made for the song.  I considered using that version, but it’s a rather boring piece set in a garden whereas this one has a bit more energy—a relevant bit of trivia for “Paperback Writer” is that it’s the second-to-last-song (followed by Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”) played at The Beatles’ final paid concert (the impromptu-rooftop-set filmed during the production of Let It Be [Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970] doesn’t count as an official tour date although it was the last time all 4 of them performed together in pubic) at San Francisco’s now-demolished-Candlestick Park, August 29, 1966.  (Trivia extra: Today—well, at least when I began writing all of this—August 19, 1964 marked the start of the Mop Tops’ first full-fledged-US/Canada tour, again in SF [OK, the suburb of Daly City to be exact], which I missed by a few weeks as a summer trip out west with my parents came too early, to be augmented the next year when the Fab Four came to Houston on August 19 [again], 1965, a concert my protective mother wouldn’t let me attend from our home in Galveston, 50 miles away, due to her fear for my safety from all those screaming girls suddenly throwing themselves on me as a substitute for the Liverpool Lads, I assume—how thoughtful of her to be so concerned.)  

 However, that song’s lyrics are really more about Lipsky’s desires to be as famous as David Foster Wallace, so if we need another Metaphor that speaks more directly for Wallace I’ll suggest Carly Simon’s “Legend in Your Own Time” (from the 1971 Anticipation album) at com/watch?v=C4fTT6voask, a video shot at her 1995 Live at Grand Central Station concert, an unannounced surprise for NYC commuters recorded for a Lifetime Television special (given the constant crush of people at this place I’m surprised there was room for a stageful of musicians, but from the looks of it everything went off smoothly) in that it speaks well to Wallace’s depiction as a “hero in the footlights” to the literary world where he was so celebrated although “a legend’s only a lonely boy When he goes home alone” to his 2 faithful dogs and the occasional intrusive guest.

 On the other hand, there was virtually nothing to consider within my usual realm of obscure references when choosing a Musical Metaphor for Straight Outta Compton because N.W.A. had already done the work for me with the title song from their 1988 album of the same name at com/watch?v=TMZi25P q3T8, the original music video that cuts to the heart of what the current film is exploring with the content focused on police harassment and the rappers’ refusal to tolerate or be intimidated by it.  In addition to the harsh anti-cop attitudes (well-justified by the circumstances these guys had already lived through in their young lives in the LA area) that motivate this hostile response to the environment they were so personally familiar with there are also lyrics easily offensive to the women of their own counterculture and just plenty of angry adult language in general so if you’re not already familiar with the vocalized version of “Straight Outta Compton,” I do encourage you to consider what you’re about to listen to before you dive right in.  (If you’re open to what N.W.A.’s exposing and responding to, though, you might want to delve even deeper with the song that creates such a strong negative response toward them from the law-enforcement-community in the film, especially when they ignore the warning in Detroit not to sing it, “Fuck tha Police” [sorry if you think I should have edited that first word in the title, but I get a bit tired at times of the self-censorship I impose upon my texts in order to keep the robotic Google overlords happy, especially because I highly doubt that my reviews are read by anyone who hasn’t been exposed to such “offensive” language already, so please accept that once in awhile I just state what someone else has already written without having to worry about the reasonable constraints of a “family newspaper”] at—from the same 1988 album—which is a blatant condemnation of violent police tactics against young Black men, all of whom our singers see as being treated by cops as if they’re criminals, whether they are or not.)

 However, for those of you who can stomach criticism of the various power establishments in our world but would prefer your protests to be Musically Metaphoricized in a gentler nature than what N.W.A. so aggressively dishes up I’ll conclude with The Beatles’ “Piggies” (from the 1968 The Beatles double-disc, more actively known as “The White Album”) at https://www., where the socially-dominant-upper-echelon of business, politics, and law in “their starched white shirts” are dismissed by George Harrison’s lyrics as “Clutching forks and knives to eat the bacon”; these “piggies” aren’t just the cops that are the target of much of N.W.A.’s rejection but are more the enablers who set those cops and their actions in motion in societies where “there’s something lacking,” with the message from all these tunes that the social elite and their enforcers “need a damn good whacking.”  Based on the positive critical and audience response to Straight Outta Compton so far, there seems to be a lot of agreement with that sentiment (although those whose loyalties lie with the Donald Trump wing of sociopolitical thought might prefer to do the whacking on supporters of N.W.A.—and, in breaking news, my friend and actual regular reader Roger Smitter from the Chicago area tells me the real scandal about … Compton is that the White Sox logos on the caps in the movie don’t match how they should have looked from that era!  Now that the word is out, expect box-office-receipts to drop faster than the Stock Market) That’s it for me this time, but I’ll be back soon with more reports from the wide world of current cinema.
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Here’s more information about The End of the Tour: (32:51 interview with actors Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg, more penetrating questions and detailed answers than in a lot of festival Q & A sessions; if you really want an in-depth exploration of the two real people that this film is about here’s a presentation on December 13, 2011 by David Lipsky talking about the late David Foster Wallace at [part 1, 34:15] and https://www. [part 2. 14:45])

Here’s more information about Straight Outta Compton: (3:41 version of the trailer with a brief intro from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre; the actual trailer is a Red Band that uses the same R-rated language as the film, so you have to sign in to verify that you’re at least 18 in order to watch it but if you’d rather watch a more sanitized version here’s one at (first 10 min. of the film; video/audio quality not so good so it’s probably pirated, but I offer it to you in hopes it will encourage you to pay for the real thing in a theater where you can appreciate how well it’s actually made rather than buying an illegal full version that looks like this; don’t support piracy but do support this film, especially given its ongoing relevance to racial chaos in our society)

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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