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November 08, 2002 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2002-11-08

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FRIDAY Focus

The Michigan Daily - Friday, November 8, 2002 - 10

The once-promising city of Detroit is separated
from the suburbs by a bleak boundary, a border to
the city limits known as 8 Mile Road. Where life for-
merly thrived and prosperity prevailed in the past,
the city has little left to offer. Inside the line is pain:
no chance, no money, no hope; across that line, that
man-made border, is destiny: a record, a future, a
voice. When all you desire is something else, but
pride, the past and a need for respect hold you back,
it is up to you to stand up and be
heard. "8 Mile" deals with that life a
marked by a disparity between what it
is and what it should be. **I
Director Curtis Hanson unfolds the
emotional struggle of one man trying to 8
find his own way in a grittily unflinch- At Show
ing style. He presents Detroit through Qual
desolate images and a story that rings Uni
true to the life it portrays. Provocative,
important and intense, he takes a sensi-
tive topic, adds a controversial rapper and stresses a
message that is as pertinent to young people every-
where as it is to the inner-city dwellers it models.
Eminem plays Jimmy Smith Jr., rap-named "Bunny
Rabbit," a struggling white rapper in the black-domi-
nated world of underground hip-hop in 1995 Detroit.
In a powerful opening scene, Rabbit's friend Future

(Mekhi Phifer,
"Clockers") beckons him to
the stage to battle and be heard. On
this stage, battles are done with words and rhymes but
have emotional blows that liken it to a fierce boxing
match. Overwhelmed and nervous, he chokes on his
words and is booed off the stage. Everything is wrong
in his life. Fired from his job, separated from his girl-
friend and without a car, he is forced back across 8

MILE
wcase and
ity 16
versal

Mile into the 810 area code to live with
his broke mother (Kim Basinger). She
lives in a trailer park with his sister (tal-
ented young Chloe Greenfield) and a
boyfriend that graduated high school
with Jimmy.
All Jimmy has to rely on are his
friends, the Three-One-Third - appro-
priately named for the Detroit area
code. Future wants to bring him back to

World, the
beautiful, model-
dreaming Alex (Brittany
Murphy, "Don't Say a Word") puts dreams of a better
world into his head. Tension constantly builds as
Jimmy fights for control and opportunity.
Pleasantly surprising in his demeanor, Eminem
proves that he has skill beyond the recording studio.
His performance is powerful and convincing with an
emotional range that even the most experienced actors
would have trouble reaching. In every scene, Eminem
carries the entire weight of the film on his shoulders.
The controversial raps and bad press become lost as
he truly personifies the character. As the movie pro-
gresses, Eminem disappears and Jimmy Smith Jr.
takes center stage. Even where it starts to resemble a
biopic of Eminem himself, he becomes immersed in
the role's complexity that translates into an enthralling
screen presence and riveting debut. Certainly praise-
worthy, this portrayal should change naysayers' opin-
ions of the cultural phenom.
Supporting cast members also provide a wonder-
ful array of characters and performances. Murphy,
Basinger and Phifer bring a touch of class to the set.
Their experience and expertise adds validity to the
film, but their embodiment of characters has the raw
nature of reality. Casting known rappers in bit parts
also adds a depth to the story as they raise the bat-
tles to a level of extreme intensity and natural flow.

The best move that Hanson makes in casting is his
decision to use unknowns and native Detroiters to
fill bit parts and be extras. These people are the
story; they have the natural ability to create the aura
because they live it.
An excellent compilation of songs accompanies a-
realistic, grainy film stock and the concentrated
camerawork. Eminem's amazing amount of input,
including the lyrics for every battle, is astounding
when considering his lack of film training. The pho-
tography brings the audience in for a close exhibition
of emotions necessary to understand the characters'
intricacies. With a story that resembles the original
"Rocky," Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto trans-
forms Rabbit's trials on the microphone into an
exchange of words that cut like right-hooks and
knockout punches. Unlike other movies based in
Detroit, Hanson shoots the neighborhoods and not
the sights. He uses the city as more than a setting; it
becomes a dominating, oppressive force. Where
other films show the prominent venues, he shies
away from known features to show the harshness that
encompasses the majority of the area.
Hanson has added to his awesome list of credentials
(highlighted by "Wonder Boys" and "L.A. Confiden-
tial") with a wonderful piece of drama and truth..
Everything comes together in powerful fashion and
leaves a lingering sense of satisfaction. "8 Mile",
entirely shot in Detroit, is one film in which the peo-
ple and city it projects should take pride.

battle, hoping that Jimmy will be dis-
covered and gather a following; the self-righteous
Wink (Eugene Byrd, "Sleepers") wants to give him a
way out by producing a demo tape for him. With
Jimmy's situation becoming ever bleaker, he has to do
more on his own. Somewhere in the confusion of try-
ing to be heard, working at the stamping plant to make
money and fighting with the rap-group the Free

Hanson directs the way to

'8 Mile'

By Todd Welser
Daily Film Editor

"So what can I tell you?"
A day after the Detroit premiere of Cur-
tis Hanson's "8 Mile" the director appears
full of energy and, even though he has to
endure a day's interrogation from local
reporters, is eager to discuss his new
release. But why shouldn't he be? The
screening could not have gone any better,
eliciting loud applause and laughter from
the hometown crowd. For a filmmaker
who fought to shoot the film on location in
the trailer parks, back alleys and aban-
doned homes of the Detroit area, it must
feel pretty good to know that despite all
the controversy and bad rumors in the
press "8 Mile" is a success, an opinion
notably held by the citizens it portrays.
"I felt great in a couple of ways," Han-
son recalls his experience of the night
before. "That audience is the audience of
this movie and by that I don't mean the
audience that would be most interested in
this movie but they are the audience that in
a way have the per-
spective to be the
most uniquely judg-
mental of the movie.
And one of my
main goals was to
try and represent in
a truthful way
Detroit 1995."
Hanson went to
great lengths to
obtain the studio's
approval for shoot- The Oscar winner pla

the movie is 'L.A. Confidential,' but it's
the same thing in 'Wonder Boys' with
Pittsburgh and the same thing with '8
Mile' in Detroit."
The two co-producers were originally
not sure if Detroit was the right setting for
the film because of the danger of putting
an already touted "Eminem movie" in his
city of birth. In the end, however, the costs
of the city were overshadowed by benefits
of it over the alternatives. "The problems
and difficulties that one confronts in
Detroit exist in all of our major cities but
in Detroit they are very dramatic and they
are very visual; everything about the story
just felt better to tell it here in Detroit."
Still, the general public cannot help but
expect a biopic of the inflammatory rap-
per. Yet Eminem does not play himself in
the film, instead portraying Jimmy Smith
Jr., a Slim Shady-like white rapper grow-
ing up in the black-dominated world of
Detroit hip-hop. Hanson responds to those
uninformed viewers: "The intent was to
try and create a truthful portrait of the
world in which this story takes place. Now,
that world is the
same world which
Eminem the record-
ing artist also
emerged so natural-
ly there are places
where the two over-
lap in the movie and
his life, and that was
actually one of the
things that I con-
Courtesy of Universal fronted when mak-
his next shot. ing the decision of
what city to set the
story in because the story could take place
in any American city and it would still
overlap with his life.
"But ultimately I felt that Detroit was
such the right place to set this story and so
I tried, once I made that decision, to incor-
porate as much of Detroit into the script as
possible."
This included the changing of the origi-
nal title, which went through several alter-
ations before filming even began. Hanson
finally decided on the title "8 Mile" after
a long discussion with Eminem on the
film's themes.
"Clearly in Detroit, (8 Mile Road) has a
very specific meaning: City limits, divid-
ing line between city and suburbs and in
the hip-hop worlds, it's kind of a dividing
line between what's real and authentic, and
over here (north of 8 Mile) what's phony."
With the deletion of the "road" from the
title, it takes on a more universal meaning.
Hanson explains, "We all have our own

be and, in some cases, even where we want
to be. And to me, that's part of the human
condition; it never changes."
The decision to film in Detroit came
long after another difficult decision, the
casting of Eminem in his major film
debut, or as Hanson points even his
"minor film debut."
Screenwriter Scott Silver spent some
time with Eminem before writing the
script, but Hanson had not met the then
up-and-coming rapper before they spent
six weeks of rehearsal time together. Han-
son credits co-producer Grazer for the
foresight to envision the popularity
Eminem would amass so quickly. Howev-
er, Hanson wasn't drawn to the project for
the rapper's fame, but rather the challenge
of working with the first-time actor in a
moving story of a young man looking for
direction in his life. ,
"I didn't really worry truthfully about
the 'whole Eminem' of it all, I knew him
as an artist, I knew he was incredibly gift-
ed with words, I knew he was controver-
sial." Hanson continues, "My question to
myself was, 'Would he be able to deliver a
performance tha felt sufficiently emotion-
ally truthful, to carry this movie?' And I
felt that if he could, the audience would go
with this character and forget about
Eminem. And to me, he's Marshall Math-
ers; he's an actor in this movie and that's
how I came to know him, that's how I
worked with him and frankly that's what
made him feel that he could trust me. He
knew I wasn't there to cash in on Eminem.
In fact he was a question mark as far as I
was concerned. And I think that made him
trust me, because as he stated he had no
interest in being in an Eminem movie,
what one could call a vanity project. He
wanted to be an actor in a really good
movie."
Also helping Hanson make "8 Mile"
another one of the "good movies" in his
storied career was a dream cast. Hanson
found actresses to fill the two lead female
roles by recruiting an old friend and talk-
ing to an actress he wanted to work with

courtesy or universal

Director Curtis Hanson tutors the hip-hop artist turned actor.

ans

ing in the film-shy
world of Detroit. Like many other direc-
tors, Hanson could have easily skipped
over the border to Canada where filming
comes much cheaper due to the money
exchange and tax rebates.
"The typical way you do it is you go to
some city, let's say Detroit, shoot a few
days and then go to Toronto and shoot the
rest of the movie and pretend that you're in
Detroit the whole time." The Academy
Award winner adds, "Honesty was my
concern."
Hanson's love of American cities com-
bined with his producing partner Brian
Grazer's long time endeavor to make a so-
called hip-hop film made their union a
perfect one for each other and the city of
Detroit as well.
Hanson looks over his career, noting,
"I'm somebody who's interested in Ameri-
can cities and I try to do stories that allow
me to be as specific in exploring those
cities as possible. In 'L.A. Confidential,'

for years.
Hanson directed Kim Basinger to an
Oscar in his "L.A. Confidential," so when
he needed someone to play Jimmy's moth-
er, Stephanie, he knew exactly who to turn
to. "I wanted that character to be perceived
as someone who was a bit lost and strug-
gling to find her way, and I knew that Kim
could invest that character with humanity
because one of the remarkable things
about her, as beautiful as she is, and in my
mind there is nobody more beautiful,
nonetheless the beauty is not a barrier as it
often is with actresses."
Actress Brittany Murphy, of "Clueless"
fame, has been on Hanson's most wanted
list for years and with "8 Mile," the two
finally unite. He proclaims, "Brittany is
exceptional."
Murphy first caught Hanson's eye
years ago when she appeared on Broad-
way and he has followed her career ever
since. Murphy appears as Alex, an aspir-
ing model who inspires Jimmy with her
dedication to "getting out." Hanson says,
"I felt that she could bring a quality to
that character of Alex, someone who has
no talent but has ambition and direction,
more direction than most of the other
characters."
In the film, Jimmy's crew knows he has
the talent to make a name for himself as a
rapper but Jimmy first has to get over a
case of stage fright he develops during the
freestyle rap battles that highlight the film.
As Hanson discusses, the battles function
as more than just a foreground for Jimmy
to show off.
"What I found specifically fascinating
in regard to the hip-hop aspect of this
movie was the freestyle battling. The fact
that these characters loved words and used
them so

unbelievably skillfully; to think that they
can do it to a beat, rhyme and under pres-
sure and be funny. You know it's amazing
what they do, the dexterity of it and I loved
the idea of them using words instead of
fists, instead of weapons."
This message was so important to Han-
son that it seeped into every aspect of the
filming process, from camerawork to set-
ting. "For me and my team, my camera-
man especially, the metaphor was boxing
and we tried to stage those battles like a
boxing match, with the violence of the
words instead of fists. That was one of the
other things that was really appealing
about setting the story in 1995. While our
characters were battling, on the national
scene, over the radio air waves and on
records, you had the East Coast-West
Coast battle going on with Tupac (Shakur)
and Biggie (Smalls) most notably, and a
few months later the words were replaced
with guns with tragic results."
With today's release of "8 Mile" a chap-
ter has closed in Hanson's life, but he
admits to growing to love Detroit during
his time here and also fondly talks of his
friendship and professional relationship
with Eminem.
Hanson recalls, "At the end of (produc-
tion), (Eminem) said 'Never again, I
would never do that again."' But the direc-
tor also stresses the work ethic of the first-
time actor, "He really poured himself into
the process of this movie and put his
whole life on hold and it was hard. It was a
very lengthy and difficult process for him,
as it is for every actor, but he was going
into it not knowing the drill."
Hanson expects, "After some time goes
by and his performance is received the
way I hope it would be, he'll look back on
it and it will be a little bit like childbirth.
He'll forget the pain and

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