Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
This "Faith-Based" Drama Is Giving 'Straight Outta Compton' a Run for Its Money This Weekend... This "Faith-Based" Drama Is Giving 'Straight Outta Compton' a Run for Its Money This Weekend... Lee Daniels' Richard Pryor Biopic Is Officially Ready to Go (Mike Epps, Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey, Kate Hudson) Lee Daniels' Richard Pryor Biopic Is Officially Ready to Go (Mike Epps, Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey, Kate Hudson) Watch 5 Clips from Regina King's Feature Directorial Debut 'Let The Church Say Amen' Starring Naturi Naughton Watch 5 Clips from Regina King's Feature Directorial Debut 'Let The Church Say Amen' Starring Naturi Naughton Righting a Past Wrong? Academy to Present Spike Lee with Honorary Oscar Righting a Past Wrong? Academy to Present Spike Lee with Honorary Oscar African-American Female Team Produce Indie Horror Film ‘The Dark Rite’ African-American Female Team Produce Indie Horror Film ‘The Dark Rite’ Viola Davis Says She Will Star in a Film Adaptation of 'Fences' Directed by Denzel Washington Viola Davis Says She Will Star in a Film Adaptation of 'Fences' Directed by Denzel Washington "This Is a Relationship" - Watch Michael Ealy Frighten Sanaa Lathan in Tense First Clip From 'The Perfect Guy' "This Is a Relationship" - Watch Michael Ealy Frighten Sanaa Lathan in Tense First Clip From 'The Perfect Guy' Vin Diesel Says He's Returning for a 'xXx' Threequel - Filming to Start in December Vin Diesel Says He's Returning for a 'xXx' Threequel - Filming to Start in December Updates on Steve McQueen's "Epic" Series Centered on a Black Community in London, Over 3 Decades Updates on Steve McQueen's "Epic" Series Centered on a Black Community in London, Over 3 Decades This Is What Angela Bassett and Naomi Campbell Will Look Like in 'American Horror Story: Hotel' This Is What Angela Bassett and Naomi Campbell Will Look Like in 'American Horror Story: Hotel' Quentin Tarantino Says 'The Hateful Eight' Will Be Timely & Will Tackle White Supremacy Quentin Tarantino Says 'The Hateful Eight' Will Be Timely & Will Tackle White Supremacy But What About Black Superheroines, You Ask? Watch Episode 1 of CW Seed's Vixen Series But What About Black Superheroines, You Ask? Watch Episode 1 of CW Seed's Vixen Series Watch: Trailer for Miniseries Based on Life of Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz (Coming This Fall) Watch: Trailer for Miniseries Based on Life of Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz (Coming This Fall) Watch: First Look at Season Three of 'Hit the Floor' Watch: First Look at Season Three of 'Hit the Floor' Brad Pitt's Plan B + 'Ex Machina' Distribution Company Team up for Barry Jenkins' 'Moonlight' Brad Pitt's Plan B + 'Ex Machina' Distribution Company Team up for Barry Jenkins' 'Moonlight' Jay Ellis and Yvonne Orji Join Issa Rae in 'Insecure' for HBO Jay Ellis and Yvonne Orji Join Issa Rae in 'Insecure' for HBO Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... AFM News: Danny Glover, Derek Luke Will Play Prison Inmates In 3D Drama 'Long Day Journey' AFM News: Danny Glover, Derek Luke Will Play Prison Inmates In 3D Drama 'Long Day Journey'

DVD Review: 1986 Hip-Hop Doc 'Big Fun In The Big Town' (Available For 1st Time In 25 Years)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act July 25, 2013 at 5:54PM

New York, 1986: a city of big dreams and equally big problems. Like New York itself, hip-hop music encompassed both of these human conditions. But hip-hop and its cultural birthplace shared other important characteristics, too: the desire to always be original, a hustle-to-survive ambition, and – if the stars aligned – the ability to come out on top, no matter what the odds.
1
Big Fun In The Big Town

New York, 1986: a city of big dreams and equally big problems. Like New York itself, hip-hop music encompassed both of these human conditions. But hip-hop and its cultural birthplace shared other important characteristics, too: the desire to always be original, a hustle-to-survive ambition, and – if the stars aligned – the ability to come out on top, no matter what the odds.

I received a screener copy of this and watched it over the weekend; it's about an hour long, and fast-paced, and I'd say not meant to be received as an all-encompassing history of hip-hop. But serves as a time capsule and the story behind its making deserves a documentary of its own, based on what I read.

It was made in 1985, so it covers pivotal moments and hip-hop luminaries of the time starting with Grand Master Flash, up to L.L. Cool J, who'd only just then recently released his first album, the acclaimed boom-box fave Radio.

Shot over the course of 6 days, with a 4-man Dutch crew (including its host and director Bram Van Splunteren, who was commissioned by the Dutch TV station he worked for at the time to make 6 music-based documentaries, and this was one of them), there’s something humorous about the simplistic, and even naive way in which the material is presented.

The title alone speaks to that - Big Fun In The Big Town. I'd say that the fact that the filmmakers weren't local to the scene which they flew across the Atlantic to document  is definitely obvious (not only because of the difference in skin color), and gives the film an innocence about it.

Dutch Journalist and rap fanatic Van Splunteren spent one intense week in NYC in 1986, armed with five things: a camera crew, a map, a deep respect for hip-hop as an artform, a list of phone numbers, and a burning desire to get to the bottom of what this still-growing culture was all about. By the time he left, he had the answers he needed, along with a treasure trove of golden video footage. Tragically, these images never returned from Europe, languishing in obscurity for more than a quarter-century. Until last year when the film was released.

It's definitely what you’d call a no-frills documentary, which is actually a very good thing. I’d even use words like pure; the camera (nor the filmmakers) express any opinions whatsoever. The camera just documents, and the subjects are as they really are, comfortable in their own domains – neighborhoods, homes – with their families, friends. No pretentions. And so you get the information raw, including lots of wonderful upfront footage like Roxanne Shanté and Biz Markie performing live on stage in the mid-1980s, to a live, excited crowd.

Those scenes, all shot in what looks like a worn and fading 16mm film, are a joy to watch. Like I said, a time capsule, even though I wasn't there.

But all you hip-hop heads already somewhat familiar with the history likely won't learn much from this; although it wasn't made for you folks specifically. The main objective was to give audiences back in Holland (where the filmmakers are from) in 1986, an authentic view of hip-hop; and, once you put it in that context, I think it succeeds.

However, even if you are intimately familiar with the subject matter, I also think you'll get a kick out of the footage - like the aforementioned performance footage, as well as a then 17-year-old LL Cool J, still living at home with his grandmother, as they stroll through his neighborhood, while LL's braggadocio comes through in his words.

Plus, watch a younger, balding Russell Simmons be interviewed inside Def Jam Records’ offices, Run-DMC recording, freestyling, and adjusting to their new-found fame, Grandmaster Flash reprising his famed kitchen DJ set from Wild StyleMC Shan live on-stage in the Bronx, Doug E Fresh beatboxing and philosophizing on the street in Harlem, a young Schoolly D live and backstage at the famed Latin Quarter club, Suliaman El Hadi of hip-hop progenitors the Last Poets, spouting off about younger hip-hop artists, and much more, all crammed into this relatively short documentary. 

After watching Ice-T's The Art Of Rap at Sundance earlier this year, I'll say that I think this is probably more what he was (or should have been) going for - just more comprehensive, and with a lot more history. It shows hip-hop from just about every angle, and approaches its subjects with a journalistic integrity and respect not frequently given to the artform and culture.

Commercially available for the first time ever after more than 25 years, Big Fun In The Big Town, directed by Dutch filmmaker, journalist Bram Van Splunteren.

It's on DVD, so 

Watch a 4-minute preview trailer follows below:

This article is related to: Reviews


Shadow & ActNewsletter