(Straight Outta Compton Trailer I highly recommend you watch the movie trailer. It has an informative opening from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and it also shows some of the key scene I talk about in my post.)
F. Gary Grey’s biopic Straight Outta Compton is a film based on the story of the rap group Niggaz Wit Attitudes, or more commonly known as N.W.A. This is my favorite movie and one that I have seen well over ten times; thus, I am very familiar with the lines. The best way for me to de-familiarize myself with the movie was to watch it in a way that removed my understanding of the dialogue. In order to do so, I watched the movie in a language not native to me, Spanish. I do not have any understanding of the Spanish language; therefore I had to find a different way to understand the plot. Since the creation of synchronous sound, dialogue is what has provided an explanation for the plot of a movie. I found myself focusing on the soundtrack (this may have been a drawing point since the lyrics of the music remained in English). Through this shift in focus, I became aware of just how important the diagetic music is to the movie. In order to make sense of the story, you do not need to rely on the dialogue. The songs chosen from N.W.A’s discography, is all that is needed to tell the story. Also, the music is crucial to understanding the time in history that the movie is set in. The songs that were chosen to accompany N.W.A’s music are an important aid in making the movie a period piece.
The N.W.A songs that are featured in the film coincide with important plot points. The song “Fuck Tha Police” is introduced right after the scene where the group is harassed by the Torrance police at the studio because they look like “gangmembers”. The placement of the song is perfect because after being silenced and unable to express their anger towards the police officers, it gives the viewer a verbal representation of how fed up these characters are. It also shows how they take their anger and put it towards something constructive; they are giving their people a voice. This song grows in importance as the movie continues. It is an objectification of the problem of police brutality which is an inherent theme of the movie. It also becomes the reason for the censorship of the group. “Fuck Tha Police” and its message serve as a foreshadowing of the L.A riots that break out after the trial of Rodney King. The harassment and racial injustice that the group is rapping with such lyrics as “not the other color so police think, they have the authority to kill a minority” comes from their personal experience. The group speaking out about their experience becomes the soundtrack for the suffering of black people on a global scale after King’s unfair trial.
A vital part of the N.W.A story is their break up and the bad blood that flowed between them afterwards. As I watched the film without a dependence on dialogue, it was clear that Ice Cube’s song “No Vaseline” is all that is needed to understand the feud. It sums up the whole narrative of the corruption within the band’s management and why he left the group. The lyrics: “you’re gettin’ fucked out your green by a white boy” and “I tried to tell you a year ago” are two examples of the lyrics that explain this part of the story line. Ice Cube is aware of the fact that Jerry Heller is not giving the band members their fair share of the money they earned. He also touches on the fact that he tried to tell them this before he left the band which refers back to a previous scene between him and Dr. Dre on the tour bus. The song also sheds light on Ice Cube being a fiercely independent character who is intuitive about the politics of the music business.
Straight Outta Compton is a film that is based in the early 1980’s to the early 1990’s; it is a period piece. Despite the ’64 Chevy Impalas and the Jeri Curl wigs, the music is what is most important in making this movie historically accurate. Other than the N.W.A songs, the music that was chosen for the film consists of songs that the characters would have grown up with and that were popular at the time. Some of these songs include: “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayers Ubiquity (1976), “Flashlight” by Parliament (1977), “(Not Just) Knee Deep” by Funkadelic (1979), and “Weak at the Knees” by Steve Arrington (1983). The dedication to using songs relevant to the times becomes especially important when the viewer tries to understand why N.W.A’s music was so original, revolutionary and controversial. The mainstream music of the 80’s was lighthearted and upbeat, so when N.W.A starts climbing up the charts, it is unprecedented. A scene that really shows the juxtaposition of the popular 80’s music and N.W.A’s “Reality Raps” is when Dr. Dre invites Ice Cube to sing at the club Doo – To’s. Dr. Dre is warned by the owner of Doo – To’s that he is not to play rap music because he wants his clubbers to be thinking of “pussy not pistols.” When this scene opens, “Flashlight” is playing. This is a very upbeat, light, and disco-sounding song. This upbeat pop music is then interrupted by the hard and crude beat and lyrics of Ice Cube’s rap song called “Gangsta Gangsta”.
As I watched the movie in Spanish, I noticed other techniques of film that I had never paid much attention to since I was so immersed in the dialogue. For example, when the movie has cameos of actors playing iconic musicians like Snoop Dogg and Tupac, the camera slowly zooms in on the character in a low-angle shot. This technique really lets the viewers know that we are meeting an iconic and powerful individual who deserves a dramatic shot. However, it is not a coincidence that my focus shifted to the importance of the music in the film since the whole basis of the film is how influential N.W.A’s music was in a time of heavy racism and corruption in the police force. My alternative viewing of the movie allowed me to take the film, which I know backwards and forwards, and learn from it in a different way. I now understand that the story line of a movie does not solely rely on the dialogue. A film is made up of multiple parts and even the smallest detail that can otherwise be overlooked is important to understanding the story.
Straight Outta Compton. Dir. F. Gary Grey. Warner Brothers, 2015. DVD.