Watched Journal: February 2023

Watching 'Belly', the sole feature film from visionary music video director Hype Williams, is an exercise in pure cinema. 

The story, of ambitious small time crooks and best friends Tommy and Sincere, played by two of the '90's greatest rappers, the late DMX and Nas, is a familiar one of chasing more lucrative capers with escalating danger. But Hype's visuals, in particular the blue drenched opener featuring a heart racing robbery inside a Queens nightclub, are the mark of an auteur who carves out a distinct look and mood that captures the pre-Y2K, pre-9/11 vibe of New York.

The 25 year old film sparkles on Lionsgate's recent 4K UHD Blu-ray release, which uses the iconic whiteout theatrical poster for its artwork. DMX's intense, raw performance has only appreciated, sparkling with the same infectious energy and charisma he brought with his first few albums. It's easy to see why he crossed over into making action films alongside Jet Li and Steven Seagal. I haven't watched 'Romeo Must Die', 'Cradle 2 the Grave' or 'Exit Wounds' since catching them in the theaters many years ago, but I remember them as fun popcorn action flicks accompanied by catchy soundtracks hits from DMX. That DMX was a quasi hip-hop answer to Elvis Presley in terms of musical and cinematic crossover appeal is a testament to his talent and heartbreaking considering his career was also shortcut by personal struggles. 

"You kill the ego and make it about the music, make it about the art. And live your life," Nas recently told Stephen Colbert when asked about how to conquer the 'King's Disease'. In describing the meaning behind the 'King's Disease', the title of his album trilogy, Nas could've easily been referring to DMX or Elvis when he talks about the musicians of the past who flew to close to the sun. While Nas doesn't have the screen presence of DMX, his stoic performance as Sincere in 'Belly' evokes the wisdom he imparts in his lyrics and interviews.  Now behind the camera, Nas continues to kick knowledge, archiving hip-hop culture by directing the documentaries 'You're Watching Video Music Box' and 'Supreme Team'.

One wonders why Hype Williams hasn't followed-up 'Belly' with another film, a movie that outperformed its budget at the box office. His flashy style and knack for making musicians appear large than life would've easily translated to a compelling musical; a genre piece like an action thriller or horror would've been interesting with Hype's unique flair. With 'Belly', he demonstrated the potential to be hip-hop's Michael Mann. With all the technical advances in the last 25 years, it would be a treat to see the visual spectacles of Hype Williams return to the big screen.

What I watched in February:

2-1: Power  (1986, Sidney Lument) [Tubi]

2-9: Caravaggio [Criterion]

2-10: Cutter’s Way [Fun City Editions Blu-ray]

2-11: Nothing Lasts Forever [Showtime], Confess, Fletch [Showtime]

2-16: Belly (1998, Hype Williams) [4K UHD]

2-19: Love Affair (1994, Glen Gordon Caron) [VHS]

2-22: Mad City [Tubi], Eminent Domain [Tubi]

2-23: Making The Disney Wish: Disney’s Newest Cruise Ship [Disney+]

2-24: Babylon (2022, Damien Chazelle) [Paramount+]

2-25: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever [Disney+], Devil in a Blue Dress [Criterion 4K  UHD]

2-27: Thunder on the Hill [Criterion]

2-28: Lemon (2017, Janicza Bravo) [Criterion]


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