The Get Down focuses on 1970s New York City - broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped -- dying. Consigned to rubble, a rag-tag crew of South Bronx teenagers are nothings and nobodies with no one to shelter them - except each other, armed only with verbal games, improvised dance steps, some magic markers and spray cans. From Bronx tenements, to the SoHo art scene; from CBGBs to Studio 54 and even the glass towers of the just-built World Trade Center, The Get Down is a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco -- told through the lives and music of the South Bronx kids who changed the city, and the world...forever. Written by
I really wanted to like this. Having been born in NYC in 1977, I've always been fascinated with movies and documentaries that portray the era.
There are some redeemable qualities of the show: the music, of course, as well as Jimmy Smits' and Shameik Moore's performances. However, Luhrmman really drops the ball when it comes to over-stylizing the show. Anyone who lived in late 70s/early 80s NYC will attest to the fact that most of the city was a crime-ridden wasteland. Luhrmann tries, unsuccessfully, to capture this but the tone is simply not gritty enough; there's no real "edge" to the show. The Warriors, in all it's campy glory, gives a far better snapshot of the grittiness of the time, both through tone and through cinematography. The Get Down is campy at times, but in a bad way. For example, I'm baffled by Shaolin Fantastic's bizarrely and randomly choreographed Kung Fu flourishes. Perhaps I'm missing something here - it seems much more like a nod to Wu Tang Clan - but they didn't really arrive on the scene for about another decade and a half, and in a totally different borough, Grasshopper.
Additionally, I think that Luhrmann (or perhaps the scriptwriters) insert the cultural, political, and social happenings of the time as purely incidental. Yes, there was a mention or two of Star Wars, which debuted in May of '77, and an episode was sort of framed around the Great Blackout of July 1977. However, there were a number of misleading scenes: for example, the riots and looting that took part largely in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Yes, there was looting beyond those perimeters, but Bushwick was literally burned to the ground. During another scene we see two characters playing an Atari 2600, which wasn't released until September 11, 1977. Music that was not released in 1977 is utilized during some scenes.
Part of the problem likely has to do with the fact that Luhrmann is so culturally disconnected from the subject matter. He was a 14 year old boy living in Australia at the time; he can't properly recreate the pressure-cooker atmosphere that was happening in late 70s NYC because he didn't experience it, and likely doesn't really know anyone who did either. Mad Men did an amazing job of incorporating cultural milestones to frame the narrative of the show. Similarly, The Wackness perfectly encapsulates what it felt like growing up in the city in the summer of 1994. When I watch movies like Dazed and Confused and Stand By Me or the TV shows Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years, I feel like I'm transported to those periods of time in small town America. Unfortunately, The Get Down isn't doing it for me, and although it's flawed, Spike Lee's Summer of Sam does a better job of portraying the Summer of 77 by acknowledging touchstone events like the Son of Sam murders, the emergence of punk rock, CBGBs, the 77 Yankees, and Studio 54. All these amazing musical genres were burgeoning at the exact same time, and it's a shame that The Getdown treats most of it like it's inconsequential.
Lastly, I really have to say that Jaden Smith is total joke in this. His "character" becomes slightly more tolerable in the later episodes, but he clearly lacks the acting chops to be able to keep up with the rest of the cast. I say "character" using quotation marks since part of me seriously suspects that his ridiculous hippy-dippy new age dialogue has been lifted right out of his Twitter feed.
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