06/15/2005: And it was made here, by the way....
Over at Slate, Christopher Kelly takes Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer's soon-to-be-released film Hustle and Flow as the starting point for some musings on the rise of "the indie blockbuster": The Pimp Who Saved Hollywood.
Those who enjoy debating whether American independent filmmaking has become completely co-opted by the Hollywood monolith, or merely 97 percent co-opted, would have had a grand ol' time at the premiere party for Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow (Paramount Classics, opening July 13) at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
It had been a sluggish first few days for the dramatic features, with the usual mixture of allegorical dramas starring slow-moving turtles and quirky comedies starring thumb-sucking teenagers. But suddenly a palpable Sundance buzz was in the air. Hustle & Flow—a drama about a Memphis pimp named DJay (the gifted Terrence Howard, late of Crash) who dreams of becoming a hip-hop star—had brought the crowd to its feet that evening at the Park City Racquet Club. And now hundreds of partygoers huddled around heat lamps in the freezing cold, asking all the familiar questions: How much might the movie sell for? How much could it gross theatrically? And how big a windfall did its producer, John Singleton (of Boyz n the Hood fame), stand to reap? (Singleton and producing partner Stephanie Allain financed Hustle & Flow out of pocket, for about $3 million, after shopping the project around and reportedly getting turned down by every studio in town.)
One thing lost in all the excitement was the small matter of the movie itself—which is mostly just shameless, crowd-pleasing drivel. Howard burns with old-school charisma, but he's forced to play one embarrassing ghetto cliché after another: a pimp with a heart of gold (i.e., he smacks his bitches, but only when they deserve it), suffering through an early midlife crisis (i.e., he just can't see himself doing the pimp thing into his 40s). DJay's rise to superstardom is a dopey, Rocky-style wish-fulfillment fantasy, replete with musical numbers from the MTV Jams recycling bin. (Sample lyrics: "You know it's hard out there for a pimp / When you're trying to get money for the rent.") And Brewer hasn't quite figured out how to illustrate his lead character's misogyny without exulting in it: The camera gets in close to the actresses' jiggling backsides; the dialogue—including one soon-to-be-famous line about the constitution of a female pig's genitalia—is even more revolting.
The movie sold to Paramount Classics (partnering with MTV Films) for a reported $9 million; Singleton received an additional $7 million, earmarked for him to produce two more "indie," urban-set, youth-oriented dramas. The next indie sensation was born. Funny, though, that this "vision of what's hip and what Hollywood isn't doing," as Singleton has described it, should look exactly like what Hollywood's been doing for years.
Len on 06.15.05 @ 06:42 AM CST