Surrounded by death and the brutal lifestyle that feeds it, a Los Angeles gangbanger explores the history of Southern California street gangs from the 1950s through the 1990s in an attempt ... See full summary »

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Surrounded by death and the brutal lifestyle that feeds it, a Los Angeles gangbanger explores the history of Southern California street gangs from the 1950s through the 1990s in an attempt to fully understand his existence. Bastards of the Party humanizes the staggering casualties of the LA gang wars. Written by Anonymous

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22 April 2005 (USA)  »

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A Vivid History of Testosterone Gone Wild in Late 20 Century L.A.
28 May 2005 | by (Queens, NY) – See all my reviews

I saw a "screening print" of "Bastards of the Party" at the Tribeca Film Festival.

It's helpful to understand the full arc of the documentary as a longitudinal exploration of the roots of gang and police violence in Los Angeles in order to get past the opening section to when the theme is finally declared.

The first part is a salute to the Black Panther Party in California in the 1960's that is at first repetition of the usual history and then degenerates further into interviews with self-aggrandizing, middle-aged survivors posturing for posterity in an effort to preserve the images of themselves they want to project as a legacy that becomes my-eyes-glaze-over cliché-ridden rhetoric for the viewer.

Then director/on screen narrator/participant-witness Cle Shaheed "Bone" Sloan comes on the screen to explain his thesis and the movie really starts getting interesting - that the gangs of L.A. are the titular descendants of the Panthers. He then proceeds to go through the changes in Los Angeles decade by decade, though not strictly chronologically, sociologically, culturally, economically and politically (as well as very personally) to demonstrate how the current volatile racial situation step by step resulted from the destruction of the Party. It serves as chilling non-fiction background to TV series "The Shield," for L.A., and "The Wire," for how applicable it is to many inner cities across the country.

This very much comes across as a story about outlets for testosterone as basic as throughout human history, here channeled in the late twentieth century through the police, politicians, the media and the drug and violence dealing gangs they in some sense created.

Rather than focusing on the usual truisms about single mother-headed families, though we do hear some ranting about dysfunctional family clichés, we see what happened to the men in the African-American community from childhood on under oppressive economic and political conditions, though no mention is made of whatever impact the welfare system had, laid out as if it is a passionate Ken Burns documentary on Reconstruction.

We also don't hear much about nonviolent alternatives rejected or wasted, because the camera focuses on the most charismatic spokesmen -- even if what they are saying is preening bull for the camera. I think that at a certain point even the director realizes the gang members' strenuous comparisons of themselves to the Panthers sound like delusions of grandeur and self-justification. The older gangsters reflecting on the world they want to make now for their children is touching, as it contradicts stereotypes of African-American fathers in the inner city.

But we don't even hear from a woman until near the end as a mother cries about the funeral of her son. And then the funerals mount up, as movingly as any film about genocide.

The finale, however, weakens the impact of the film as the director appears on screen as a former gang banger (and in excerpts from TV interviews, such as with Larry King) just as self-aggrandizing as the opening subjects so we start questioning his credibility.

The film is also weakened when the changes are explained in left-wing jargon, especially as mouthed by white professors (and it's a shame that virtually no non-white academic experts are interviewed for at least visual balance), though a Senate staffer is very convincing about conspiracies by just factually summarizing a report.

The astounding archival photos and videos capture the zeitgeist, especially in striking material from individuals as we see hair and fashions authentically change.

The film was executive produced by Antoine Fuque, for whom the director acted in "Training Day," but other credits were missing in the print and I assume some music as the lack of much hip hop on the soundtrack was inexplicable otherwise, particularly as rap gets zero mention in the film as any kind of influence.

With the extreme language and images in the film, PBS is not an option as a future outlet.


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