Getting down with The Get Down: Trying to out-Baz Luhrmann Baz Luhrmann.
Leave it to an Australian filmmaker to make a 6 episode Netflix series about the origin of hip-hop culture. Although, after closer consideration with the Get Down, it seemed to work. If you’re looking for Straight Outta Compton, this isn’t a movie for you. The Get Down has a lot more levity and brighter moments that illuminate its gloomy background of Bronx in the late 70s. Here’s a litmus test: did you like The Great Gatsby and the way it meshed a period piece with contemporary music? Do you think quality of every day conversation can be improved in speaking in perfect iambic pentameter? If the answer to either of that is “yes” then buckle up and commit to watching 7.5 hours of The Get Down.
Steered not only by Luhrmann, the show balances between his outright style and a more grounded setting. Executive producers Nas and Grandmaster Flash (also a character in the show) clearly leave their mark and Nas even provides lyrics for the intros. It is very much a hip-hop culture story, not just the music. It is the transition from disco to a new, exciting and in many ways troubling new culture centered around turntablism, graffiti and freedom of expression. The cultural role that hip-hop played in uplifting neighborhoods in the city and how it drew on the cultural unrest requires a sensitive touch, and it is during those moments you can see Baz Luhrmann’s natural instincts reigned in a bit.
But what if they weren’t? What if he was allowed a free reign? Where could we be now?
Jaden Smith goes full Jaden Smith
Are you even here man? What if the universe is like… gas and shit. Anyways, it seems that Hollywood has decided that Jaden’s development arc as an actor should closely mirror his dads. Basically, let him play himself in the roles rather than over-complicate his already too metaphysical existence with any actual acting. For the most part, The Get Down keeps modern day Plato in check with a few scenes begging to break out.
I think the Disco club scene (if you’ve seen the show, you know what I mean, if you haven’t spoilers) is too important to change. It explores an important time for a particular culture and kudos to the show for taking it on. However, that is as close as we get to see the “real” (because reality is just like, whatever man) Jaden Smith. Baz Luhrmann could have set him free. He could have set him on a rocket ship, with a flute and some spray paint unleashing some sort of hallucinogenic dream.
A full out kung-fu battle breaks out
Considering how much the show leans into the Shaolin mythos one could be mistaken for thinking that RZA was the mastermind behind it all. Unfortunately, he was not. Otherwise, the final get down battle would have elevated from a joust of beats and words into a flat out Jackie Chan set piece. DJ Shaolin Fantastic grabs a record, slides his finger across the edge and tosses it at the opposition not unlike a shuriken. It is at that moment that one of the beat-boys runs through the crowd and attempts a kung-fu kick. An agonizingly slow and drawn out piano solo begins. RZA speaks.
Love medley of disco hip-hop takes place on the fire escapes
As is with any movie, book, story or limerick, at the center of The Get Down lies a deep and troubled love story. She wants to be a disco star and he wants to be a hip-hop wordsmith. It is actually a deep exploration of both clash of cultures at the time and two young people thinking they know what love is. But it’s not entirely and fully Baz.
To drive his point home, he needed a full out musical number between the two where the music clashes at the breaks from the rhythmic vibes of disco to prolonged four-four stretches of a hip hop beat, preferably with a fire escape. That way, our star-crossed lovers can make it to each other up/down the stairs as the cacophony of clashed sounds enriches the moment and neighbors peek out the window to contribute to the song instead of telling the youths to shut it.