Documentary. USA, 2003. Rated R. 90 minutes.
Tupac Shakur, Afeni Shakur, Suge Knight
|Grade: B+||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
" got shot"powerful words to open a documentary. For a moment, it seems as though director Lauren Lazin has achieved the impossible and smuggled a microphone into the afterlife. Of course, Tupac's words must have originally referred to his November 1994 shooting in midtown Manhattan during a robbery, which Tupac somehow survived despite taking several bullets from his assailants. The thoughts Tupac expresses, though, could easily apply to his violent death two years later.
Before examining the latest film about the violently truncated life of Tupac Shakur (rap star "2Pac"), let me confess that I know little about the man, for many an icon of the stature as Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, or Kurt Cobain. I can't analyze his artistic influences. I can't trace his own influence on artists who came after. I can't speculate on the mystery surrounding his 1996 murder in Las Vegas. I don't own any of his music, although after seeing this film, that may change. I can tell you, however, that Tupac: Resurrection is a fascinating documentary.
Don't expect investigative reporting. Basic facts about Tupac's life are missing, particularly about his murder, which has never been officially solved. The many theories, some of which point the finger at Death Row Records chief Suge Knight (the driver of the vehicle in which Tupac was shot), are here left unprobed. Instead, Tupac: Resurrection tries to show who Tupac was, examining his life experiences, his perspective on the world, and his many, many contradictions. Like the excellent The Kid Stays in the Picture, Tupac: Resurrection is a trip through a man's head.
Tupac Shakur performs in Tupac: Resurrection
The entire film is narrated by Tupac himself. First-time feature director Lauren Lazin, a veteran PBS and MTV documentarian, has spliced together audio from Tupac's many interviews to create amazingly seamless narration going over the whole of his life. Tupac touches on his Blank Panther mother Afeni Shakur (whose reverent treatment may be partly attributable to her serving as an executive producer) and describes growing up poverty-stricken in New York City. He attends the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts with middle-class white kids as a young teen, then moves out to the West Coast, where he begins hanging out with the Wrong Crowd. Nonetheless, he continues pursuing his dream to be a performer, and meets success quickly as a rapper, actor, and poet. As his fame grows, so does the controversy and violence.
Tupac Shakur's contradictions are extreme. He is both a thug and a leader, his music both poetic and profane. We are talking about a man who was arrested numerous times and intimately familiar with the inside of a prison. Yet we are also talking about a passionate, eloquent artist who remains one of the best-selling rap stars in the world. Lazin shows how Tupac creates the concept of "Thug Life" (a marketing brand for himself, basically), then denies that it glorifies criminality. Tupac attacks Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall for hating black people and Quincy Jones for "sticking his dick in white women," but he reminisces fondly about his friendships with Mickey Rourke and Tony Danza (of all people!) "I got a big mouth. Can't help it," Tupac says.
Then, there is the matter of Tupac's treatment of women. He talks of his love and respect for them, claiming not to "have a predator thing going." Yet allegations of sexual assault and abuse dog him all his life. In his music, he refers to women as hos, bitches, and sluts. His explanation? Apparently, bitches are women who sleep with guys only for money or to be associated with celebritythey are the same women who wouldn't give Tupac the time of day before his fame. He has no respect for them, but that doesn't stop him from having sex with them.
Tupac's contradictions make a lot more sense when you remember that he only lived to be twenty-five years old. Despite his accomplishments, this was just a kid, denied the opportunity to mature by his killers. Instead, what Tupac: Resurrection leaves us with is a portrait of an intelligent, enormously talented, and undeniably charismatic artist who by the end of his life had become a master of spin, and was buying too much into the image he had created for himself. One of his most revealing statements is when he explains how he doesn't have to tell the truth; he just has to tell a story.
Tupac: Resurrection is one of the many studies of Tupac Shakur, whose life and death have become fertile ground for artists and the media. There have been films and television documentariesamong them the always controversial Nick Broomfield's Biggie & Tupac, Ken Peters' Tupac Shakur: VS., and the obligatory VH1 specials. There have been playsincluding Up Against the Wind, written by Michael Winn, which enjoyed a short but successful run at the New York Theater Workshop in 2001. There have been numerous books. Some are faithful attempts to do justice to the man and his art. Others are exploitative. Many have political and cultural agendas. But Tupac: Resurrection is the only work that presents Tupac's life as he himself might have told it, in his own words. You could argue that because Tupac: Resurrection is so subjective in its point of view, it has no journalistic value, but there is certainly humanistic valuea great deal of valuein understanding how an influential artist saw the world.
© November 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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