Since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the found-footage faux-documentary style of moviemaking has become an accepted norm. What was once used as a marketing gimmick in titles like THE LAST BROADCAST and STRAWBERRY ESTATES is now an often used storytelling technique meant to add another dimension of realism. Some people find the aesthetic annoying, but I find it fascinating.
Adam Ripp's GANG TAPES owes more to the likes of AMERICA'S DEADLIEST HOME VIDEO than it does BLAIR WITCH in that the goal is to tell a tale of domestic violence rather than supernatural horror, but the effect here is more frightening than either of those movies could hope to be as viewers are subjected to a first hand education in what I can only imagine in my worst nightmares to be an accurate, and ultimately bleak, look at life in South Central Los Angels.
The movie opens with a white family capturing their vacation in Hollywood on tape. Viewers see them doing the whole tourist deal as they visit Mann's Chinesse Theater and measure up their feet against their favorite celebrities. As the son tapes from the backseat of their SUV, the family is assaulted and car-jacked. The next thing we see are the jackers playing with their new toy, the video camera.
The camera goes through various hands before it ends up with Kris, a 14 year old with no father figure in his life. Up until now, it's been his mother keeping him on the straight and narrow, but as she works long days to make ends meet, Kris takes to spending time with the older kids in the neighborhood. GANG TAPES is a video journal documenting Kris' descent into gang life. Viewers meet his family and his gang brothers. We see them live, love, survive, and die, but never once is the action glamorized. The birdseye view of the video camera keeps the action focused on the daily ugliness of life in South Cental.
Kris is a good kid who knows right from wrong, but like everyone around him, acceptance is of the upmost importance. Tender moments with this mother are undercut by scenes of the older gang members becoming his father figures teaching him life on the streets - how to smoke weed, how to make rock cocaine, how to carry out a drive-by. GANG TAPES is a coming of age story set in an age of rage and desperation.
Of equal importance to the movie is the filmmaker's commentary. Not only does it fill in backstory on how Kris' story was developed, but it illuminates the process of making an improve film with non-actors filling all the roles. To make the movie as accurate as possible, Ripp cast real gang members in pivotal roles and many times they're called upon to pull from their real life misdeeds to bring about their characters. Never is that more evident then when the character of Cyril reveals the story of how he gained his gang name. The making of featurette shows the rehearsal process involved, which ultimately fails. It isn't until Rip tells the actor Darontay McClendon to go home and come up with a monologue of his own. The final result is a six-minute take of McClendon revealing what may very possibly have lead to his own real life incarceration. Together, those two supplemental features are a filmschool unto themselves.
The rest of the disc is packed to the gills with trailers, deleted and expanded scenes, music videos, an entire CD's worth of music set to production stills, and storyboard comparisons involving some of the film's more complex sequences. The DVD is an excellent package to an excellent movie. GANG TAPES is independent cinema at its finest and deserves a place in every viewer's collection.
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