Slam is one of the rarest of films, an intelligent urban drama. These days, most films that deal with inner city African American youth either glorify the violent world that they live in, or turn into an After School Special on just saying “no”. Slam disses both of these paths, and instead, forges its own path. Luckily, this path leads to truth, to knowledge, and to awards at Sundance.
This is the story of one young man coming to grips with his time and place in the history of the world. Being pinche… for possession of narcotics, the talented poet finds himself locked down while he awaits trial. While on the inside, he develops his talents as a writer as well as his views on violence and loyalty to the street life that he has been living in.
Many films profess to be a “real” look at street life, but this one succeeds admirably. Absolutely nothing feels forced or unnatural in this film, thanks to its use of local talent, and a hand-held camera “guerilla” shooting style. Storylines are allowed to unfold on their own, without any outside influence or artificial plot elements. Poetry is powerful and genuinely great. This is not a film that was written and directed, as much as a film that just captures life as it already is.
This is a film that really has no need for a 5.1 soundtrack, but that fact that one is used here anyway only helps the story. Dialog, of which there is a considerable amount, is clear and natural. No artificial filtering seems to be used, which is in keeping with the pseudo-documentary style of the film. Surround speakers are under-utilized, but the viewer still gets a great sense of space from the exceptionally-mixed front of house. While there is no score to speak of, the scene-based music sounds great, with plenty of low end, when necessary.
Colors are excellent, with the blandness of the prison scenes contrasting nicely with the beauty of the outside world. Bright green trees and red brick buildings are inviting and bold. Black levels are deep, and whites are pure. From a color aspect, this transfer is right on.
There are some soft focus problems, however. While certainly not a major problem, some scenes do drift in and out of focus. This is to be expected with a documentary style shoot, however, so I am not too surprised to see it here. When actors don’t have marks to hit, they are free to wander too close to the camera. Instead of distracting from the film, these minor errors actually help to make the film feel more real.
It is a shame that the palette of special features is so sparse for this film, but that’s just the way it is. Included here is a trailer for the film, a soundtrack spot, and a music video by Goodie Mob and Esthero. The only true extra worth your time is the feature length commentary by writer/director Marc Levin and writer Bonz Malone. This is one of those increasingly rare commentary tracks, where the participants talk throughout the length of the film, leaving very little silence behind. Their stories of the film’s production are interesting and thorough, and really help to add to the experience of the film itself. This is one commentary that is worth investing some time in.
Having seen so many bad “rap” movies in the past, I went into this one quite apprehensively. I have seen so many “gangsta’s and ho’s” flicks lately that I just couldn’t take another one. What I experienced, however, was an intelligent commentary on urban life that succeeded admirably in showing rap music as a viable 21st century art form. Thank you, Marc Levin, for bringing something real and moving to the tarnished world of modern black cinema.
Special Features List
- Theatrical Trailer
- Audio Commentary
- Music Video
- Soundtrack Spot