So last night, I watched “Love Jones.” Again. I guess, that makes about the twentieth time over the past fifteen years. But it’s not because the movie is so good. It’s not. It’s just because I know, at least once a year a conversation comes up about this movie in which people take really interesting sides, and I like to be ready for those types of heated discussions.
I always find it interesting to talk to poets and writers about the movie, because they always get upset. Most, if not all of them say that they hate the movie and that the open mic scene was so distorted, totally perverting the actual spoken-word community. The cadence, and the jazz band, and the snapping and all that was just so cliche, and it sent a message to everybody, that this is how things really were at an open mic. And it made everybody feel like, they can just grab a mic and say whatever, and call it poetry. Those are the arguments. Fair.
But, I remember the poetry scene, back then. I remember 97, 98, 99. And, let me say, maybe, just maybe, “Love Jones” exposed SOME of what was really going on. Sure, you could argue that the movie perpetuated it, but I’m not sure it did.
Here’s a cross reference. Just four years before “Love Jones,” comedian Mike Myers (Austin Powers) put out a silly movie, “So I Married an Axe Murderer” in which in one of the early scenes he is at an open mic, with a jazz band, performing a ridiculous poem (about the Flintstones) in the same cadence that “Love Jones” magnified, and poetry lovers mock. (Betty? Wilma?…hilarious.)
Which makes me think that maybe the creator of “Love Jones” thought he was nailing the cool. Maybe what he portrayed, he thought was authentic and accurate. And the truth is, maybe in a lot of places, it was. And that’s what makes so many people so upset. Not because it’s fake, but because “some” of it, was, still is, real.
Another cross reference. 1998. “Slam,” the film featuring the incomparable Saul Williams, was almost like the rebuttal to “Love Jones” though way, way, way underground. In “Slam,” we get Saul, a prisoner who uses his poetry to, pretty much, get him through, and of course he falls in love with the poetry teacher in the slammer. Dope film, but when they go to the open mic, and he peforms “Sha-Clack-Clack,” there was nothing about that scene that reminded you of “Love Jones?” I mean, the scene itself? Sure, Saul’s performance was leaps and bounds ahead of Darius Lovehall’s, but that doesn’t really change the “scene.” It just means that there are good writers and bad writers in an open mic, and folks who have spent enough time in these things know that bad writers, Darius Lovehall, have just as much of a shot at getting the girl with his crappy “Can I be your slave?” poetry, than the good writer. WE ALL KNOW THAT.
So what am I saying? I guess I’m saying that though the storyline of “Love Jones” makes no sense at all to me, the poetry scene that causes these interesting debates, isn’t that big of a deal to me, only because it was peppered with truth then, and it’s peppered with truth now. I think they tried to bring something fresh to light, and ended up watering it down (which, by the way, a lot of folks also say about Def Poetry) but it didn’t perpetuate the monotony in spoken word any differently than “Slam,” and everyone’s obsession, if not migration, to Saul’s cadence, and style.
The irony is, whenever I have these debates, all I can think about is that this issue is EXACTLY the kind of issue that the core characters, Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate), Nina Mosely (Nia Long), Savon Garrison (Isaiah Washington), and Eddie Coles (Leonard Roberts) would argue about, usually, in the exact same way. And that makes it even funnier.
One final note. Lots of folks forget that Bill Bellamy’s character, Hollywood, was not so into the spoken-word thing. He actually found it pretty corny, which is interesting. He was the dissenter, and it would have been interesting to see his role as an outside thinker fleshed out more, instead of turning him into the villain who takes his homeboy’s girl. But alas…
But yeah, the soundtrack…amazing. Shouts to Dionne Farris.