You won’t find a more convincing portrayal of US urban street gangs than this riveting directorial debut from Adam Ripp. Using a cast of unknowns, many of whom are real LA gang members or former felons, Ripp takes us on a violent ride as we follow 14-year old Kris Noland (Trivell) after he has carjacked a vacationing family and stolen their videocam. We witness Kris’s lifestyle as ‘East Side Riders’ gangster wannabe, via the video camera lens through which he proceeds to film every incident in his life that include parties, home life, church, the loss of his virginity, and introduction to guns. We are introduced to his mentor Alonzo Robinson who deals cocaine, and psychopath Cyril Hardwick who is known on the streets as ‘Serial Killer’ due to his love affair with an automatic, and are privy to crimes ranging from robbery to murder.
Despite receiving an ‘R’ rating from the MPAA, (with minor cutting to a scene in which a family are assaulted), GANG TAPES found itself banned by cinema chains who found its shocking scenes of detailed drug preparation (there’s no way these scenes will get past the BBFC), realistic shootouts, and rape, too affecting. As a result distributors Lions Gate have been forced to issue the film on DVD, that’s rather ironic seeing as GANG TAPES was originally conceived for film festival crowds. Shot for less than $500,000 over 12 days, this volatile movie oozes integrity and is, to my mind, the most important film of the year.
The performances are exceptional, young Trivell is especially impressive as Kris (aka Lil’ Lonzo) whose emotions cover, humility, frustration, pomposity and anger in a way that experienced Hollywood actors would do well to emulate. The rest of the cast are also convincing, so much so that we forget that we're watching a scripted film. The remarkable editing by Tina Imahara also adds punch to proceedings; we cut from improvised rapping at parties to revenge driven shoot-outs, where expletives come thick and faster than an at an Osbournes family row. The movie may not endear itself to all viewers, and it runs the risk of aggravating racism due to his characters uncompromising way of life. But that’s how it is! Take away the humour from Scorsese’s Mafioso, and the establishment wariness of Larry Clarke’s white trash films, and you’re left with something resembling reality. Forget Spike Lee’s sensationalised political rantings, and watch a definitive portrayal of urban America. Rent or buy this movie if you care about controversial cutting edge cinema and look out for Adam Ripp. I just hope Hollywood allows him to make "his" movies “the way it is” ‘cos believe me, Lions Gate are gonna have to roar to keep him.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Adam Ripp
English Language with optional English and Spanish subtitles
USA / 2002 / 81 minutes.
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Lions Gate Films DVD Release
Region 1. NTSC. Dolby Digital Stereo.