I’m not really sure how “The Get Down” turned out to be as good a show as it is. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the credits but I’m pretty sure Nas, Nelson George and Grandmaster Flash himself are among the list of producers. I was pretty sure I would never watch it because I was not looking forward to what I felt was the dominant casting of light skinned Blacks in the leading roles in order to capture viewers. But I wanted to spend time with my husband and he invited me to join him to watch it. So of course I said yes, with reservations.
We’ve only watched the first episode, which is an epic hour and 45 minutes long and I’m already blown away, not so much by the characters initially, which take a minute to really grow on you because of creator, Baz Lurhmman’s traditional A.D.D. direction of editing. The attempt to crunch visual story telling, which mixes old 70s footage of the Bronx with set recreations of circa 70s Bronx, with what was going on in hip-hop, politics, the economy and the neighborhood, while also telling a young love story and the genesis of a rise to fame through mythical hip-hop iconography is dizzying and trippy as fuck.
Of course, I kinda like that.
Just about every frame has something critical to communicate to the viewer. It appears to be cut specifically for the purpose of nostalgia and also drawing connections from the past to the present day sense of Black musical trends and the culture and style and politics that shape it.
I don’t know yet about the episodes to come but there are very few long takes in “The Get Down” episode one. It’s all about movement, color, story telling, and emotionally hyperbolic placement in the artifice, magic, substance fueled, kinetic, beauty of Black people and culture in 1970s Bronx.
There is a dance scene where Cadillac, one of the main character’s opponents, shows everyone just how much power he has by claiming the dance floor. Wearing an all white suit, Cadillac attempts to shift the course of budding romance between lead character Ezekial and Mylene, the girl whose affections they both seek, through the power of dance. This incredible scene made us think about how dance is primarily social, tribal, spiritual and a form of communication that conveys celebration, love, intimacy, challenge, violence, domination, attitude, posturing and more.
There are many things that blew me away in this episode, like the way that the paths between the mythical Shaolin who scales roofs and jumps from building to building risking life and limb for an album and Ezekial, the young, unrealized wordsmith (MC,) converge to form the beginning of a life changing relationship. It speaks to the importance of having a gang or a squad a team of people to support one another and to belong to.
Also, the dialogue tends to go from verbal to lyrical to musical at any moment and I was often left wondering if I was listening correctly or hearing correctly. “The Get Down” is not only a nostalgic and visual feast for the senses. I was uniquely impressed by the heart in it, particularly in the friendship among the young men. I really look forward to seeing how this energy, along with the pace and epic scope of such an ambitious first episode can be maintained for two seasons.