Friday, January 26, 2018

Lord Jamar (ft. Horse and Reality Allah) – "Revolution" (2006)

A lot of what I'm saying is not easy to face
Sometimes medicine’s not easy to taste

I would have never guessed that Jeanne Berlin was the actress who portrayed prosecuting attorney Helen Weiss in the 2016 HBO series, The Night Of.

Jeanne Berlin as Charles Grodin's
bride in “The Heartbreak Kid”
Do you remember The Heartbreak Kid, the 1972 movie featuring Charles Grodin as a callow young New York Jew who deserts his annoying and severely sunburned bride while they are on their Miami Beach honeymoon to pursue the blonde shiksa of his dreams – who was played by Cybill Shepherd?

(The Shepherd character turned out to be just as annoying as the Berlin character, of course.  Live and learn, Grodin character!)

Grodin with Cybill Shepherd
Jeanne Berlin – the daughter of famed comedian, screenwriter, and director Elaine May – was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the hapless betrayed bride.  

Berlin, who was born in 1949, appeared in several zeitgeist-y movies in the early seventies – including Getting Straight, The Strawberry Statement, Portnoy’s Complaint, and The Baby Maker.  

But after starring in Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York – a 1975 bomb – Berlin more or less dropped out of sight for 35 years or so. 

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Berlin’s performance is one of the many fully-realized performances in The Night Of, which is without a doubt the best one-season television series I’ve ever seen.  

Jeanne Berlin cross-examines
a witness in “The Night Of”
In fact, The Night Of may be the best television series ever period.  Its only competition for that title may be The Wire, which was a multi-season show.  (It’s not coincidental that one of The Wire’s writers was novelist Richard Price, who was the co-creator and co-writer of The Night Of.)

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In the opening episode of The Night Of, a nerdy young Pakistani-American college student “borrows” his father’s cab so he can attend a wild party in Manhattan.  (The student would ordinarily never have a chance to attend such a party, but a couple of the scholarship basketball players he tutors take pity on him and invite him.)

While he’s sitting at a stoplight en route to the wingding, a young woman who assumes he’s on duty gets into the cab.  They end up at her townhouse, ingesting mass quantities of booze, cocaine, and Ecstasy . . . and engaging in mass quantities of sex.

*     *     *     *     *

(Spoiler alert!)

After the best night of his life, the student passes out from all the booze and drugs and sex and wakes up hours later in the kitchen.  He heads upstairs to grab his pants and say good-bye to his “date.”  

But when he gets to the bedroom, she’s been stabbed about a hundred times and is lying dead in about five gallons of blood.

He panics and skedaddles in his dad’s cab, but almost immediately gets pulled over by the police for making an illegal left turn.  One thing leads to another, and he ends up getting arrested for murder.

*     *     *     *     *

Every element of The Night Of – especially its depiction of the student’s months-long incarceration pending trial in the notorious Rikers Island jail – felt real to me.  The Night Of is equally plausible and nightmarish, and it’s that plausibility that makes the show so frightening.

About two or three episodes in, I almost stopped watching.  The show was absolutely riveting, but watching it was never pleasant – it always felt like something horrible was about to happen.  

I made it to the end of the show, but it was exhausting.  

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I wouldn’t say that there are no good guys or bad guys in The Night Of.   But I would say that there are no one-dimensional good guys or bad guys.

The major characters – the student/defendant, his parents, the police who investigate the crime, the various attorneys involved, even the prisoners at Rikers Island – were all sympathetic figures to some degree.  

On the other hand, all of those characters had their flaws.  

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I may be a lawyer, but I’m not a litigator – I’m especially not a criminal litigator.  All I know about criminal trials is what I read in crime novels or see in TV shows or the movies.  

Having said that, I was very impressed by the authentic feel of the courtroom scenes of The Night Of

Most fictional trials are 50-50 propositions – the author or director makes the prosecution’s and defense’s cases equally strong to keep the reader or viewer on the edge of his seat until the very end.

The eventual outcome of the trial in The Night Of remained balanced on a razor’s edge until the jury delivered its verdict.  But every aspect of the trial in The Night Of was credible – I never felt like I was being manipulated.  I bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Here's a six-minute quasi-trailer for The Night Of:

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I’m beginning to think that the one-season television drama series is the perfect format.

A traditional movie is just too short to do more than scratch the surface.  A series that’s eight to twelve hours long will usually be much more satisfying than a two-hour movie because there is so much more detail and complexity.

Multi-season series can be satisfying, too, but rarely have the artistic unity of a one-season show.  Most multi-season series are done on the fly – the creators don’t know how many seasons the show will be on the air, so they often write the first season with no idea when or how the series will end.

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Lord Jamar (who was born Lorenzo Dechalus in 1968) was one of the three MCs in the alternative hip-hop group, Brand Nubian.  

Lord Jamar
“Revolution” (which includes samples from Chicago’s 1970 hit, “25 or 6 to 4,” and a Malcolm X speech) accompanies the closing credits of episode six of The Night Of.   It was released on Lord Jamar’s 2006 solo album, The 5% Album.

Here’s “Revolution”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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