I have never really seen a movie like Gang Tapes, a sort-of urban mockumentary told in the first-person through a digital camcorder. The Blair Witch Project is all that really comes close, and even that is not exactly the same thing. The film begins with home video footage of a family on vacation in Hollywood, but once they are carjacked, the family video camera falls into the hands of a 14 year old kid in urban Los Angeles. With this camera, he chronicles his adventures with the other boys and young me… in the neighborhood, including going to parties, dealing drugs, hitting on women, committing crimes and even witnessing murder. The audience is treated to a view of this boy’s life through his own eyes, and the result is a frightening look at the life of a child growing up in the ghetto.
While this is a gripping urban tale, the film is not without some problems. At first, the story is intriguing, shining a light in a corner of America that not many people are familiar with. After a while, however, the extreme use of language and constant arguing wears thin. While this may very well be the reality of the situation, it is not always entertaining faire. Likewise, the action begins to give way to a series of speeches by various members of the cast throughout the last part of the film. Many of these scenes feel forced and unnatural in the midst of the chaos around them. The result is a very good film that could have been even more powerful if it were edited down to a running time of about an hour.
This unflinching look at a half-child, half-gangster is poignant, from its shocking beginning to its gripping conclusion. This is certainly not a film for the faint of heart, but if your stomach can handle it, it is a piece that many Americans need to see.
I try to make it a policy to never punish a film for doing what is appropriate, and this rule comes into effect here. This is not a film that would benefit from a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. In fact, it would hurt the integrity of the piece to hear bullets whizzing by your head in perfect surround sound. This is a film shot entirely on a camcorder, as the story goes, and the soundtrack should match appropriately.
The filmmakers have done a wonderful job of capturing the audio on this film. Dialog is almost all clear and easy to discern, which is great, because dialog is all there is. There is no score in the film, and no sound effects save whatever occurs naturally. While this is certainly not a film that should be used to show off a home theater setup, it is an excellent soundtrack that is perfectly mixed, considering the film’s subject matter.
The video quality is surprisingly good on this title. Obviously, a Widescreen presentation would detract from the effect, so the film is presented in a full-screen format. While the picture is certainly clearer than most family camcorders, it still very much has the feel of a DIY project. The film has sharp colors, there are no blemishes, and grain is kept to a minimum. Honestly, I have seen normal films come out of Lion’s Gate’s catalog that have much worse picture quality than this one. While I certainly can’t give the video high marks for excellence, I was very pleased with the quality of the picture on this release.
For an indie film such as this, there are a good number of extras included on the disc. Three trailers are included for the film, as well as trailers for The Wash and State Property. Also available is a feature length commentary track, five deleted scenes, an uncut scene and a music video.
Another bonus included here is a surprisingly good making of… featurette that runs about 35 minutes in length. This piece provides a lot of insight not only into the making of the film, but into the realities of gang violence as well. It is here that viewers learn of the assistance of real gang members in the filming of the movie (as actors), as well as facts about real-life violence in the neighborhoods where the film was shot. It is very interesting to see the director interact with the actors, and try to reach them where they live.
Lastly, there is a storyboard section that includes a gallery of the opening scene, as well as a fairly extensive storyboard-to-film comparison.
This is a relentless film about the realities of gang violence, and the harshness of ghetto culture. It is an important document that, while fiction, has strong ties to the real world of many inner city youth, living in the ganglands of Southern California. Appropriate audio and video treatments, as well as a strong allotment of extras, makes this one worthy of your time, if your stomach can handle it. This is the raw truth behind Boyz N Tha Hood.
Special Features List
- Music Video
- Unedited Freestyle Rap
- Deleted Scenes
- Bonus Audio
- Storyboard Gallery
- “Making Of…” Featurette