Friday, 15 December 2017

The World Has No Eyedea (2017) - Movie Review
In the realms of hip-hop music, there’s a pantheon of artists who are no longer with us that embody some of the grandest mythologising I’ve seen out of any media discussion circles. Artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Big Pun, Tupac Shakur, Eazy-E, not to mention more recent deaths like Sean Price and even Lil Peep. However, at least in more underground circles, one name keeps coming up as an artist that thousands the world over are still mourning to this day: Micheal David Larsen, otherwise known as Eyedea.

I wound up discovering the guy’s music after his untimely death in 2010, but it didn’t take long for me to understand why the guy was missed as much as he was. As creative as he was an impossibly heavy contemplator, his music didn’t so much make me tune in as they sent me on a philosophical rollercoaster with how far he’d delve into what makes human beings tick. I even consider the album First Born by him and producer DJ Abilities to be one of the best hip-hop records of all time, a showcasing of a man who was a force to be reckoned with. Imagine if Kurt Cobain took more inspiration from Public Enemy than Iggy Pop and the Pixies, and you have an idea of not only the man’s creative output but also the legacy he left behind. With all that in mind, when news first hit of a documentary all about the man himself, I kept a very close eye on it, just waiting for the chance to check it out for myself. But now that I have the DVD in my hands, I can’t help but think that I set myself up for a colossal fall.

The plot (such as it is): Framed around interviews from friends and family, this documentary looks at the life and times of Micheal “Eyedea” Larsen, from his goofball years as a child to his embracement of hip-hop culture, going on to win rap battle after rap battle. However, when his star seemed to be at its peak, an unfortunate accidental overdose spelled his end.

Production wise, this really makes me want to reconsider what I think makes for good documentary filmmaking. As I’ve said in the past, documentaries tend to be at their best when they’re visually at their worst. The less artificial gloss is painted over the picture, the more real it feels and the effect of it being a snapshot of the real world feels closer to the truth. Here, that same idea results in not only weak filmmaking but filmmaking so weak as to make the process of watching it difficult. The interview footage is incredibly static and plain, somehow making online vlogs look like the height of cinematic framing, the audio for which can get so cold that you can barely make out what is being said. I watched this wearing some pretty heavy-duty headphones, and I still had to strain to hear some of these interviewees.
On top of that, we have a wildly inconsistent collection of clips that never feel like they’re meant to be sharing space with each other. Admittedly, the way that sound clips and song fragments from Eyedea are edited in can be rather fun, but then again, the often-reused music in the background still gets rather irksome. And this is without even getting into director/editor Brandon Crowson’s attempts to animate still pictures and lip-sync them to Eyedea’s words. I didn’t realise that it was possible to reach the Uncanny Valley without the use of computer graphics, but this guy managed to do just that.

Okay, getting away from the construction side of things, how about the information presented? Well, it mostly sticks to facticity with the interview subjects mainly telling personal anecdotes about their interactions with the artist. Again, the awkward framing of the interviewees can get a bit distracting, but as far as painting a picture of the man, they do well enough at fleshing him out. They go over his early days in hip-hop, starting out as a break-dancer before getting into writing and being an MC, and even share their favourite moments with him.
To this end, the best interviewee without a doubt is Sean “Slug” Daley, member of the rap group Atmosphere, head honcho of the record label Rhymesayers, and one of the most powerful voices in Midwestern hip-hop. The man’s legendary way of words serve him well here as he goes into his favourite Eyedea song, stories about their life on tour, and even managing to contextualise Eyedea’s creative output as an extension of the man himself. What makes this stick out isn’t just because he makes Eyedea sound like the kind of person who needs a film made about them; it’s also because he’s the only thing here that makes that point.

Whenever a documentary or even a biopic about a certain niche figure or idea comes out, there’s always that worry that it will only preach to the choir; appeal to people who already know the ins and outs of the subject matter. It’s what some (including myself) feared The Disaster Artist would be, and it’s unfortunately how this film turns out. Throughout the film, because of how little context is given for the figures talking about Eyedea’s life and work, there’s a nagging feeling that we should already be familiar with all the players in this story. I run in hip-hop circles and even I was taken aback at how much the film presumed I knew about these people. All that info I gave on Slug as a figure in hip-hop? That’s far more than this film ends up telling us, presenting him instead as just a co-worker and friend. That down-to-earth approach would be just fine, if it weren’t for the fact that this film is actively trying to wring respect out of its audience.
It even ends on a weirdly aggressive note, with Eyedea’s mother Kathy (who is the current runner of the Eyedea estate, not that that is really addressed in the film proper) and one of his frequent collaborators Carnage The Executioner basically yelling at the people who only pointed out Eyedea’s mental state after the fact. They keep giving them the business about “If you noticed, you should have spoken up sooner” and all this other junk, and I’m just sitting here wondering why this film is begging me to respect an artist who has already earned his place in my heart.

All in all… okay, I’m going to show you guys a couple of pictures.

I took these at an Atmosphere live show in Sydney earlier this year. After Eyedea’s death, Slug wrote a song in his memory called Flicker. When he performed it at the show, all of the stage lights turned off and everyone in the audience (myself included) took out their phone lights and lit up the stage. I can't speak for how common this is for his shows, but being there in person, it was almost like a religious experience. Slug was pouring his heart out over a dead friend and colleague, while his audience made him visible.

I bring this up because that one moment, counting at five minutes at most, gave a better sense of who the man was and what the world lost without him than this hour-and-a-half documentary. It’s poorly constructed, haphazard in its effects, and while some of the interviewees give a decent glimpse into their perception of the subject, everyone else feels too absent-minded to really get all the information out there. It comes across like I’m both supposed to know all of this information already and be educated on a great man that deserved more acknowledgement than he got in his lifetime. Knowing how much the Rhymesayers fanbase idolises this man, I can see this possibly working well with its target audience (backpacker hip-hop heads) but likely will do nothing for anyone else. Hell, I’m even in that target audience and I’m still not satisfied with this.

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