Formal Analysis: The Get Down

Netflix’s “The Get Down” is a groundbreaking series that hit the online streaming service last August, and sparked a lot of conversations within different communities. The show focuses on the birth of hip — hop, while also touching on the decline of disco, and intertwining many other themes such as teenage love, coming of age, comedy, and drama. Directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann, it is a complete one-eighty from his projects on the big screen such as Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rogue, and The Great Gatsby. What’s interesting about this digital narrative is that it is a larger than life production. Luhrmann brings his big flashy style from the big screen and fits it into the small screen story about the birth of one of the world’s biggest phenomena.

For many viewers, they expressed having trouble finishing the show because of the first episode. Spanning a whopping ninety-three minutes, the first episode could’ve easily been a film! In the only episode directed by Luhrmann, it showcases his big screen vision, with long drawn out scenes that feature very dramatic monologues. The episode, I believe, tried to introduce every story plot of the show, just enough to keep people interested, and in doing so made it seem very lengthy and all over the place. It is clear however, through the flashiness of certain scenes, that Luhrmann did not want to shy away from his style even through he switched his medium. For example, the nightclub scene, which is what the entire episode leads up to, is extremely flashy and dramatic. Everything about the 1970’s laced set is dramatized, from the outfits to the drug usage, to the music. However, throughout all the flashiness, the music, and the flashbacks, are Luhrmann’s biggest themes, coming of age and love. The series itself is scripted like a movie, which is different because watching a character grow in a show can be completely different from watching them grow in a movie. Luhrmann does a great job of mixing both experiences. Hip — hop, just like the characters of the series, is a coming of age story in its own, told through the characters coming of age. Deep, right? I thought so too. In the first episode alone, we are introduced to the themes of love through the main characters, Ezekiel and Mylene, the peak of disco, the beginning of hip-hop, b-boying, crooked politics, strict households, minority issues, as well as the coming of age of every character involved. Many questioned why Luhrmann, an Australian with no background in hip-hop whatsoever, had an interest in creating this series. I definitely would love to know the answer. Why not make this a project for the big screen? Why did he feel this medium was better than any other form? Why tie in a love story with the birth of hip-hop? Luhrmann explained that he wanted to tell the story of this thing that kids were doing in The Bronx that nobody was paying attention to. He wondered how with so little they were able to create something that is now known around the world. The interesting thing about this is the way he tells this story. Through documentaries and some mediocre attempts on the big screen, the story has tried to be depicted. However, Luhrmann decides to use a group of 1970’s teens from the Bronx to talk about the origins of hip — hop. This aids the story completely and really on works on this medium.

Luhrmann’s attention to detail is a pivotal factor in the piece and what makes it stand out. When telling a story from the past, especially for those who actually lived in that time period, details are very important and you always want to be accurate in your portrayal of people and how certain areas were. Luhrmann is able to do this, for the most part due to his research and help from those in the industry, such as Grandmaster Flash and Nas. His attention to detail allows him to make themes very prevalent when he wants but also slide them behind characters and scenes when he wants, which can definitely entice the viewer. He’s able to do this also, due to the medium. Being a Netflix Original Series, there is a lot more freedom than with a regular television. That may not be the case with movies, but nonetheless, for the way Luhrmann wants to depict this story, Netflix as a medium works better. There is no true “time limit” for episodes and they are also commercial free. To add to that, viewers possess the ability to watch episodes back to back because all the episodes are at their disposal, and they don’t have to wait a week to see what happens next. Everything is up to the viewer. I think this medium makes it easier for the themes to be recognized, as well as be recognized quicker. For projects like this, that are experiments and new territory, the medium is key, and Netflix was perfect for this particular narrative.

The Get Down may not be everyone. In fact, I know for a fact it’s not. However, one can appreciate the re-telling of history, especially when there is a strong, genuine attempt at the depicting the accuracy of the time and the story itself. In doing a movie on the big screen, I don’t believe Luhrmann would be able to execute his message. What he’s trying to do requires the flashiness and over the top vision of the big screen, but the timeline of a TV show, which is what Netflix is able to do the best in my opinion. This story would not be fit to be shown on stage, as a play, as a medium, due to what they would lack in forms of technology and aesthetics. Through this medium, Luhrmann is able to push his themes best and tell his story the best, which is what makes it worth watching.

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