Life And Lyrics

Life And Lyrics


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

It's often been argued that if Shakespeare had been alive today he would be writing for the movies. That seems to be a sentiment that the makers of Life and Lyrics, a Romeo and Juliet style tale of love and loyalty set against a hip hop background, would endorse - albeit with the addition of "or a rapper" at the end.

Our Montagues and Capulets are the members of the Motion and Money Crews, our Romeo and Juliet figures the Motion Crew's turntablist Danny and the cousin of Money Crew main man Money Man, Carmen.

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Unusually, however, the divisions here aren't exacerbated by race - black, white or mixed it doesn't make much difference - but by class, insofar as Carmen is from a middle-class family and en route to university to study law, whereas Danny is in a dead-end job at a record shop, Schooly's, and going nowhere fast.

This and the thrill of the wordplay in the showdowns between the members of the Motion and Money Crews - the former the good guy underdogs and the latter the bad guys, rather than anything more nuanced - are about the only notable aspect of a film that's otherwise utterly predictable in terms of trajectory (though at least here there is the possible defence of tragedy), characterisation and overall approach which, in the end, seems to do more to perpetuate than challenge stereotypes about so-called urban. To ask a few questions: How come when the local scene is so vibrant is business at Schooly's so bad? Is there some point about the workings of the music business being made here? Why did Money Man go to the local gangsters to finance his studio? As an enterprising young black man whose extended family seems to have more than enough money, couldn't he have got backing elsewhere? Was there an actual point about the limited opportunities afforded young blacks that got lost somewhere along the way? To be honest, I think not, with it instead being that the film-makers simply didn't really care about anything beyond cool superficialities.

Thus, even as far as the raps are concerned, one comes to wonder: if they were genuinely spontaneous, then wouldn't a documentary about this scene be far more valuable, in that it could - for example - help to shed some light on the degree of ritual versus reality in the exchanges of insults contained therein, of what it means for the members of rival crews to call one another motherfuckers, niggers or faggots.

Or, worse, assuming they were in fact crafted beforehand through long writing and improvising sessions, we again see the same fundamental contradiction, of reality/life against fiction/lyrics and the reluctance of the film-makers here to bother with the former when it's not entertaining or dramatic enough.

Then again, maybe that mirrors the direction of the music itself, from the socially conscious rap of Public Enemy as "black CNN" to all today's ex-pimps, pushers and gangbangers doing their "brand name negro" schtick for all the wannabes and wiggers out there...

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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As hip hop MCs battle for supremacy in London, a couple from rival gangs fall in love.
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Director: Richard Laxton

Writer: Ken Williams

Starring: Ashley Walters, Louise Rose, Christopher Steward, Cat Simmons

Year: 2006

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2006

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