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Trimark Home Entertainment presents
Slam (1998)

"It's not a random set of numbers. That number means something, son. It's YOUR number. It's YOUR number now."
- Officer Dom (Dominic Chainese Jr.)

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 07, 2000

Stars: Saul Williams, Sonja Sohn
Other Stars: Bonz Malone, Lawrence Wilson, Marion Barry Jr., Rhozier Brown
Director: Marc Levin

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, a sex scene and brief violence.
Run Time: 01h:31m:00s
Release Date: March 09, 1999
UPC: 031398697336
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B- B

DVD Review

Slam is so refreshingly different from the typical Hollywood fare that it won the 1998 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. This movie looks and feels like a documentary about inner city Washington D.C., where gangs and drugs and jail time are a way of life closer to birth rite than happenstance. I swear to you, that outside of a few moments here and there, one truly has the feeling of experiencing the goingson along with the characters as they occur. As gained from the director's commentary, this feel was purposeful, and not surprising since both the director (Marc Levin) and cinematographer/cameraman (Mark Benjamin) are documentary veterans.

Slam is the story of drug dealer cum poet/rapper Raymond Joshua, played magnificently by newcomer Saul Williams. Joshua is picked up by police in possession of marijuana after being mistaken for the shooter of a fellow gang member. In prison, Raymond must choose with which gang to hang, or to go it the rough road alone. It is through his poetry that he both connects to the other inmates, including the self-proclaimed "smoking man/Zen gangsta" Hopha (played by co-writer Bonz Malone), as well as the teacher/poet, Lauren Bell, played by the remarkable Sonja Sohn. Miss Sohn is a woman with a powerful voice and strong screen presence, who can turn a heavy piece of prose with a whisper and her poetry with a fierceness belying her small stature.

Slam contains raw power, scene after scene, partially by direction but often by coincidence or simple fate. Malone says, "Always leave enough room when you close the door to let God in." This movie was twelve years in the making, yet there are more deus ex machina of the real kind than in a Greek tragedy! The filmmakers were lucky enough to find a prison warden who understood the film they were attempting to make, who helped them in many ways, including the staging of a small prison riot between real prisoners and guards. Besides these men, many other real people play prominent roles throughout the film, from gang members to slam poets to Marion Barry playing a circuit judge. There will be those who will not believe that the "power of word" by scared straight, ex-con, "desperate do-gooders" CAN have any effect on hardened men. But as Levin and Malone point out time after time, all you have to do is watch the faces of the prisoners, gang members, and slam audience during Saul's, Sonja's and other poets' performances to know the effect is real.

It would normally be ironic, even otherworldly, that Sonja Sohn's poignant poem, "Run Free or Die" just happened to be the poem that she read the night Levin and Malone first discovered her at a New York slam. Ultimately Slam is about finding one's way through sacrifice and self-honesty. Like the poem, which she ended up performing in the film's slam since it fits the movie to a tee, the irony is that Raymond must either choose a path to cowardice by fleeing his sentence or to freedom and inner strength by going to jail and showing his responsibility by serving time.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a very good transfer by Trimark, although it is not 16:9 (anamorphically) enhanced, so some minor problems do exist (scan lines are evident, along with bits of graininess and pixelation). Colors however, are bright, and both interior and exterior shots are full bodied. There is a particularly interesting scene toward the end of the film shot silhouette during golden hours (dusk) where Williams and the river seem to merge with each other (Levin refers to the shot as "the God is our gapher shot!" ).

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Monodirector's commentary onlyyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc a 5.1 mix, that isn't reference but a nice mix nonetheless. There is not much rear channel action except for ambient sounds, and to help realize the great hiphop soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Marc Levin and co-writer/actor Bonz Malone
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This is a fully loaded disc, including a music video by Goodie Mob and Esthero, The World I Know, scene access, a theatrical trailer, and the most unusual and entertaining (although a bit self-congratulatory) commentary on any DVD to date with director, Marc Levin, and co-writer/actor, Bonz Malone. On what other disc can you hear classic commentary such as this:

Levin: I love you in that bathrobe, Bonz. Where did you get that bathrobe?
Malone: Straight from the f-ing hotel, man. The first things I want to know when I get to a hotel are: Where's the Kinko's, the porn shop, and give me the bathrobe!

And this is some of the more tame material!

There is also one of the most important "extras," in my humble opinion: Subtitles. This is one of the reasons DVD has reached such an exalted status: Being a 34-year-old white male, I had difficulty at times understanding the language; turn on the English subtitles and bam —instant understanding.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Slam is an excellent film that may appeal to the more artsy, city crowd, and is most worthy of purchase—if you can overlook the non-anamorphic treatment. If not, at least give the movie a chance and rent it. Of course, because some of the language and situations in the film and director's commentary, this is not a title for children or those easily offended.


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