Friday, July 1, 2011

Slam Poetry's (Disappointing) Spokesmovie

Mark Levin's Slam (1998)

I didn't like this award-winning, much-acclaimed film as much as I was hoping to. Don't get me wrong, it was okay and it makes a decent social statement, but it's disconnected and, frankly, a little bit strange. But maybe that strangeness is a result of the vastly different worlds these characters and I inhabit. Overall, however, I just didn't find the story that compelling.

It follows aspiring poet Raymond Joshua (played by real-life poet Saul Williams, whose work I really like) from his wanderings through a D.C. ghetto selling marijuana, sharing poems, and contemplating his dreams (whatever they really are) to his arrest for possession and his short time in prison, where he meets Lauren Bell (Sonja Sohn), a writing teacher who volunteers at the prison teaching inmates and who quickly becomes Ray's love interest.

Ray tracks Lauren down after he gets bailed out of prison and, after a backyard poetry reading, they have sex—Ray convinces her they should because he wants to live in this moment; what a line—followed by a big, dramatic fight the next morning, though I'm not 100% what that fight's about. They part ways, but the tension gets resolved when Ray shows up at the poetry slam Lauren invited him to check out. When she stands to slam, she dedicates the performance (which I didn't think was that great) to this promising new poet she's just met. (Yes, she means Ray.) After she finishes, Ray gathers enough guts to get on stage and he gives a strong performance (much stronger than hers) to an awestruck audience, then he hides in the bathroom, where he and Lauren talk for a minute about his potential. He then tells her he has to get some air and goes running through the streets of D.C., ending his night—and the movie—staring up at the Washington Monument.

The film does have some strong moments, say, when Ray freestyles with the inmate next-door (WARNING: strong language) or when he performs to break up a fight in the prison courtyard or when he stands in Lauren's backyard or takes the stage in his first poetry slam (though it's really less a slam and more of an open mic). I just wish it had more of these compelling performances and less of the brooding melodrama that takes place in-between.

Ah, well. At least I can watch the good parts on YouTube.