Showtime is getting into the high profile documentary business, possibly to compete with HBO's prolific and successful nonfiction division, and has announced a new series of works made by prominent filmmakers about prominent personalities. Up first is a doc about controversial rap mogul Marion 'Suge' Knight to be directed by Antoine Fuqua, who is best known for narratives like "Training Day" but is no stranger to the nonfiction side of cinema. He helmed the popular 2004 blues concert film "Lightning in a Bottle" and produced the 2005 Los Angeles gangs history "Bastards of the Party." This new project should be a piece of cake, since as far as I can tell Knight is in full cooperation. His current record label, Black Kapital, is doing the soundtrack.
It makes me wonder how hard-hitting Fuqua's planned Tupac Shakur biopic will be. Then again, former LA Times reporter Chuck Philips is a co-producer, and aside from a 1999 Pultizer he's best known for writing controversial articles on the Biggie and Tupac murders, one of which was fully retracted by the newspaper and led to his departure. He may not have always had reliable sources, but he clearly has been good for making strong claims. Other great talent here include executive producers Lisa Remington ("Countdown to Zero"), James Vanderbilt ("Zodiac") and Laeta Kalogridis ("Shutter Island") and producer Bradley J. Fischer ("Zodiac"; "Shutter Island").
Of course, making a commanding and potentially indicting documentary about Knight could be difficult, or at least unwise. Not only is he powerful, but more importantly he's an intimidating guy, both for his size and for his mythic and legitimate acts of violence. Let's recall what it was like for tabloid documentarian Nick Broomfield to boldly confront him on touchy matters, such as how he was involved in the Biggie/Tupac deaths. Well, that was his initial intent. Watch the awkward clip from "Biggie & Tupac" after the jump.
So much for the real combative investigative work we were hoping for. But that's part of why I love Broomfield (whose latest, "Sarah Palin: You Betcha!" opens Friday). He's a bit of a weenie and a weasel, or so his onscreen personality is made out to be. He's at least braver than his camera person, who refuses to even enter the prison, and the freelance guy who does go in but fumbles with the cinematography. I'm also fascinated by this scene because despite the filmmakers' response to him, Knight doesn't actually seem all that scary nor is he too concerned about accusing Snoop Dogg of being a police informant. I'm quite curious to see what kinds of material Fuqua and company get out of the guy.
If you've never seen Broomfield's film, you can check out the rest for free (and in better quality) below, via SnagFilms:
Finally, I want to note that while this is a big move for Showtime in the business of producing documentaries, the cable network and its affiliates are already great providers of doc programming. Classics like "Grey Gardens," "Salesman," "Harlan County, USA" and "The Thin Blue Line" are regularly on. "Make Believe" plays this afternoon. "Rebirth" is on this evening. Orson Welles' "F for Fake" airs tomorrow morning. HBO may have the reputation for making stuff, but Showtime might actually have the better overall selection of content.