Fade To Black
2004Director: Patrick Paulson, Michael John Warren
Cast: Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek, Beyonce, Timbaland, Freeway
espite what he and his legion of fans would like everyone to believe Jay-Z has become, and has been for a little while now, more of a salesman than a showman, his true expertise seems to lie more now in timing than rhyming. You’re going to be disappointed if you are hoping to catch some glimpses of what makes Jay tick with the action punctured by his self aggrandising voiceover. Similarly there also is no widescreen take on Hip-Hop as a cultural phenomenon or its permutation into Middle America. This is an advert for Jay-Z, this is self love.
Fade to Black is basically a mini-documentary about the making of his The Black Album and live footage / backstage tomfoolery from his live show at Madison Square Gardens. But by flitting back and forth like some cobbled together MTV feature (the opening shots over NY and the voice over instantly bring to mind that terrible MTV movie Tupac: Resurrection) between the gig and the studio, the energy is sapped from the show and adds fuel to the fire of the still persisting rumour that hip-hop shows are flat and impotent affairs. This clash between the cerebral act of creating the album and the exhilaration of the Garden gig works on paper but not on celluloid. Even taking Jay on stage at face value as straight concert footage doesn’t quite float, there are certainly some exciting moments here and there (especially with Foxy Brown and Mary J Blige) and he certainly acquits himself well initially by coming onstage to the NY crowd in a Biggie Smalls t-shirt. But it lacks a real focus and energy and at times he flounders, looking dwarfed by the stage: his lack of confidence as a comfortable live performer is evident when relative Roc newcomer Freeway hits the stage and blows Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and even Jay off the stage. He commands attention, something that Jay doesn’t appear to be pulling off when he has the stage to himself. The crowd are often shown going nuts to Jay-Z but this interface and relationship with the hip-hop hoi polloi is boiled down to them mouthing his lyrics back at him. The love never appears reciprocal.
Definitely not dating.
The album recording scenes also lack real sparks. Creative intent and results with Jay-Z are shown as him visiting numerous big producers and simply sitting down and listening to beats. This lends itself to some comedic moments of utter boredom listening to weak track after weak track and wheeling his chair across the frame to switch off particularly shit ones. When he hears the beats he ends up using for the album his facial expressions are worth their weight in gold, (incomprehension, joy, concentration) but these are the only times this cheap looking digital footage comes alive.
Where Some Kind of Monster was interesting on so many different levels (a documentary, a farce, a drama) and Dig! had the energy of an itchy trigger finger, Fade To Black limps along like it wants to play with the bad boys. Hip-hop may be overtaking rock on Soundscan but it still lacks a great visual document (Scratch doesn’t really count as exceptional as it is), even with his unconscious referencing of Spinal Tap during his “long ass walk” to the dressing room.
This is ‘limited edition disc with behind the scenes footage’ chopped into a live show. Fade to Black’s superficiality on almost every level means that it comes across as a straight-up vanity project. With few great moments this project loudly proclaims that it wasn’t deserving of the widescreen treatment, the movie screen format doesn’t add anything to the content; it only makes it look bigger than it actually is.
By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2004-12-24