Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls were both larger than life rap superstars. They were close friends who became bitter rivals in one of the music world's nastiest turf wars. When they were gunned down in separate drive-by shootings in the mid-90s, Biggie and Tupac became the stuff of myth and legend. Today, their murders remain unsolved, and the shadowy rumors continue, drawing from a rogues gallery that includes Death Row Records Chief Suge Knight, P. Diddy, Snoop Dogg and members of the Los Angeles Police Department.
It's a helluva story anyway you look at it. So how does Nick Broomfield's new documentary "Biggie and Tupac" manage to drain the life out of it? By giving us too little of Biggie and Tupac. And too much of Nick Broomfield.
This isn't new for Broomfield. The British filmmaker previously inserted himself in his documentaries on Courtney Love and Heidi Fleiss. With cameras already rolling Broomfield often approaches his interview subjects without prior warning, wielding a boom mike like a lance, and we are asked to take their startled reaction as evidence that these people have something to hide. Broomfield, playing the impish muckraker, has also been known to let the cameras keep rolling even after assuring his subject that they've stopped shooting. His interview style, tentative and often befuddled, may be worthy of Detective Columbo. Or it may not be an act. Broomfield's documentaries on controversial American celebrities tend to be about the difficulty a maverick filmmaker encounters trying to get access to his subject. As a result, the people who talk to Broomfield tend to be people with something to sell. The people who don't talk to Broomfield, we suspect, are much closer to the truth.
The technique, though irritating, often worked like a charm in both "Kurt and Courtney" and "Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam," where the side characters were indeed characters, entertaining if not especially credible. In "Biggie and Tupac" the technique is simply irritating. Broomfield already has an infamous unsolved murder on his hands, and rumor mills that have never stopped churning. So his revelation that LAPD officers might have been involved in the shooting is not quite as stunning as the documentary breathlessly suggests.
Broomfield does strike gold once, late in the film, when his persistence lands a prison interview with Suge Knight. Knight agrees only on condition that he will not talk about the deaths of Biggie and Tupac, but will offer a message to young people. A huge and intimidating man, Knight sits across a prison yard table from Broomfield and with eyes down and in a voice as small and innocent as Beaver Cleaver's, explains why it's not a good idea to rat on a friend. Moments later, Broomfield is showing us the website of Death Row Records, displaying a barely veiled threat to the life of Snoop Dogg upon Knight's upcoming release from prison. It's genuinely chilling. But in terms of the film, it's too little and too late. The murders remain unsolved. And I really didn't get to know Biggie and Tupac that well.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/02
Biggie and Tupac
UK - 2002