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Gang Tapes is a highly original and innovative film.
First time director Adam Ripp received a good bit of attention for his film Gang Tapes, unfortunately for most, it was for all the wrong reasons. The white, Jewish director was lambasted by the public for his attempt to tell the real story of the gangs in South Central Los Angeles, despite the support of that neighborhood. Theater owners refused to book the film for fear of riots and for a while it seemed all the attention the film got was bad. Its release on DVD will hopefully change some of that and perhaps the public will take a chance and view this engrossing and challenging look at gang life.
Filmed on a meager budget (by Hollywood standards) using a digital video camera, Gang Tapes is the coming of age story of young Kris (new actor Trivell). Surrounded by a life of violence and family, the young man has many difficult choices ahead of him. Perhaps his outlook would be better if he weren't caught between his mother and his friends, who each want him to go in a different direction.
The controversy around the film, aside from Ripp's background, stemmed from his use of the digital video and realistic style. The story starts off with a family on vacation in Hollywood. They film themselves at all the tourist locations and later get lost in South Central LA. It's at this point the story takes a shocking turn as the family is car-jacked and removed from their van by several gang members who happen to keep their camera as well. The camera, through the hands of Kris, becomes an outsiders look at not only gang life, but life in the Watts neighborhood as well.
The unique and unorthodox method of filming let Ripp extract good performances from his mostly inexperienced cast. Comprised of several ex-gang members, the performances are real and the film is edited in a way to hide the inexperienced cast members. The comfort with which the camera is carried from scene to scene makes you believe your witnessing the inner-workings of the gang as they go trough their everyday activities.
Ripp's film makes a powerful statement that those not familiar with the culture may find hard to believe. The fact that everyday could be your last for little more than walking out the door is a hard reality to face and an even harder one to live with. His realistic look at life in the gang shows that there's more to it than red or blue clothing and a need for power and money.
Video: Filmed with a high-end digital camcorder, the video doesn't have the polished feel of a feature film and it would suffer if it did. Part of the power of the film comes from its slightly grainy and washed video and unsteady camera angels. To analyze the quality would be counterproductive to the whole process and idea of the film.
Audio: The audio is a good stereo track that works perfectly in the context of the film. At times, the audio is hard to hear based on the limitations of the camera, but it's never an irritating problem. The music included in the film booms from the speakers and is mix well.
Extras: Typical to Lions Gate, this single disc release is pack with several features. The most interesting would be the documentary that details the making of the film. More than a confirmation that it is a film, it shows the attention to detail and willingness to work with the community that allowed Ripp to work his way inside this little seen world. From the screen tests to the rewriting of the script in street lingo, it's all detailed here. There are numerous audio tracks included on the disc. Ripp has said that the music played an important part in the film and much of it is included here. A full-length music video is featured as well.
A commentary track is available with Ripp, writer Steven Wolfson and producer David Goodman. It's an interesting track that reveals the dangers of working in such a highly volatile area. After shooting a death scene, the cast and crew are shaken when they learn that one of the actor's cousins has been killed just a short distance away. It also serves as an introduction and explanation for some of the gang terms that are used throughout the film. Definitely one of the more interesting commentary tracks to come along.
Overall: Gang Tapes is a highly original and innovative film that missed its audience upon its initial release due the controversy that it might have caused. Despite that fact, Lions Gate has given it an appropriate DVD release that will hopefully allow this film to find the audience it so deserves. The violent and sometimes shocking look at gang culture is definitely not for everyone, but it should not be overlooked.
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