The emptiness was so tangible that I could actually feel it materializing and seeping through the phone’s receiver. Vapid, lifeless responses from a guy who couldn’t articulate his own truly-graphic hardships with any semblance of magnetism.
I was lost.
Being shot in the mouth and having to speak through wires, early Kanye West style, is a hell of a hook, an instant “I want to know more about this” nugget that was essentially the only reason why I accepted the D.G. Yola feature assignment back in February of 2007. Yola, for the majority of people who can’t be bothered by underground Southern rap music, is this marginally-tolerable artist from Atlanta who was almost signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint at one point, which meant that he was worthy of national magazine coverage. The assignment came my way, and I accepted. Saw it as a challenge, a chance for me to turn the story of a rapper I really don’t like much into something engaging to readers sharing my outlook.
What I got was one of the most painful telephone conversations of my life. Five-word answers were the extent of the guy’s speech, responses that reworded the sentiment of “Because I’m real, and my music is real” dominated the fortcoming transcript. In an effort to cut to the interview’s chase, I went right into the incident that resulted in a bullet-ridden mouth, hoping that he’d at least give me something resembling a compelling quote within his recount. Nothing, whatsoever. “That shit hurt, man. I was involved in some bullshit.” La fin.
Minutes later, I hung the phone up. Put my hands on my forehead, shook my skull from side to side, and felt a sinking sensation in my gut. What the fuck am I doing? This isn’t what I chose “hip-hop journalism” to do? How the hell does this guy have money and a career, and why did I just waste 30 minutes half-talking with him?
I’d entered a rut that dug deeper and deeper into my mood for about three weeks. I started thinking back to other interviews I had done recently: Flo Rida (really nice guy), Stat Quo (another cool dude), Dre (half of production duo Cool & Dre). All interesting fellas, but also all sharing a common thread: they don’t matter in the big picture. Two of them never saw a release date for their albums, and the third is a guy who is known for his songs and nothing else, people don’t give a shit about him as an artist (Flo Rida, obviously). Ten years from now, nobody (including the kids I’ll hopefully have by then) will care about any of those guys. The whole enterprise just felt so meaningless.
The only light at the end of the tunnel was something totally unrelated: a movie that I’d been dying to see for almost a year, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, was set to open on April 7. A mere couple of weeks away. Finally, some fresh exploitation and cinematic sleaze was ready to commence before my wide-open eyes. The film’s opening was such a big deal to me that I actually took a “personal day” from work and saw a matinee, in Manhattan’s Union Square. Absolutely adored it, had the most fun in a theater that I’d ever had. Went to a theater in Jersey that same Friday night with a girly friend and saw it again. Then went back to that Union Sqaure AMC and saw it a third time the following Tuesday night. And then for a fourth time the following Monday evening.
Grindhouse became a sort of drug fix, a box office flop that felt like it was all my own. None of my friends or family knew what exactly the word “grindhouse” meant in a cinematic context, so I repeatedly explained away. Talked about how back in the ’70s there were this really grimy, rundown moviehouses that would show back-to-back cheapo films (ranging from horror to action to woman-in-cages jail films). How these films were made for pennies, and only a few prints were produced, meaning that the same print would be transported from state to state. How this would lead to random missing reels in the film, and the gradually-deteriorating quality of the print would make for grainy-looking movies.
Aside from feeling like a road scholar due to my Grindhouse-backstory knowledge, I was also simply blown away by the film’s endless entertainment overload. First, I was given Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a balls-out zombie film that included everything I love about zombie films. Then, those amazing fake trailers and authentic commercial spots, before Tarantino’s Death Proof blessed me with a real show-stopper: a fatal car crash shown from the perspectives of all four unsuspecting victims.
Holy shit…..if Grindhouse were a woman, I would’ve proposed to her and been her stay-at-home Mr. Mom.
Somewhere during the third time seeing it, however, something profound happened. An epiphany, really. Perhaps the most important moment of clarity I’ve ever experienced. The word written above the lightbulb shining above my brow: I’m a fucking cinephile!
Why hadn’t I realized this earlier? As a little kid, I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom to watch Dawn of the Dead and The Shining, R-rated scareshows that my ‘rents kept away from my juvenile eyes. The same kid who told his mother that seeing the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie felt “better than Christmas!” The teenager who read movie reviews like devout Catholics read The Bible, and who knew the selected works of critics such as Roger Ebert, Gene Shalit, Peter Travers, and Owen Gleiberman.
Why was I solely concentrating on hip-hop/music in my profession, then? Why didn’t I opt for film school during my college years instead?
All questions that became pointless, because I’d made the decisions that I’d made and I had to live by them. Still do. But a fork in the road came into clear sight. I began focusing on sending editors pitches that were focused on Hollywood, actors, actresses, and other film-pegged subjects. I launched a film section in KING, called “The Reel,” that I ran all on my own and tried to make as credible as possible for a magazine that was hindered by the lazy “booty mag” stigma. Even managed to get Chiwetel Ejiofor to do an amazingly-shot fashion feature spread, and have a great essay (written by the venerable Cheo Hodari Coker) about The Bourne Identity trilogy feel completely in-place and right. Quite accomplished and proud, those achievements made me feel.
But again, the sad part was that it took so damn long to make all that happen.
It took a giddily-made passion project from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to show me the way. Watching Grindhouse (still to this day) is like living vicariously through a couple of filmmaking giants that put it all on the line in the name of movie-love. Grindhouse is 100% about the obsessive, unrestricted, enthusiastic love of cinema, so well made that it transcends the mere film-fanatics that it’s undeniably made for. Great entertainment is that no matter who’s watching it, and there’s no greater proof of that then the Planet Terror/Death Proof tag team.
I’ve always been this film aficionado that those around me see much more clearly than ever today. The dude who owns upwards of 600 DVDs and can talk ears off about little obscure foreign films is a 27-years-in-the-making product of countless solo movie theater trips and hours of online researching and film site reading. IMDB’s little voluntary bitch.
And I have Friday, April 7, 2007, to thank for pointing me in the direction that I’m looking at now. Without Grindhouse, there’d be no Theater of Mine blog, no aspirations to become a kick-ass screenwriter. No dreams of attending film school despite the overwhelming financial side of it, the debt that’d amass if I were to go back to school for a screenwriting Master’s degree.
If not for Grindhouse, I would’ve been lost much longer. Who knows where that would have led to?