'30 for 30' - 'Straight Outta L.A.' - Players with attitude
A quick review of Ice Cube's contribution to the "30 for 30" series coming up just as soon as I undergo intensive therapy to wipe my memory of the image of Al Davis in HD...
I saw "Straight Outta LA" a few weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, which had its pluses and minuses. On the plus side: I got to hear all the NWA lyrics, and all of the discussion of their lyrics and the group's name, without any bleeping. I have no idea how much of the episode had to be bleeped or otherwise altered for broadcast, but I imagine it was a fair amount. On the negative side: Al was even scarier on a big screen than I'm sure he was on your TV.
Getting Davis to talk was a coup for Cube, and helped separate "Straight Outta LA" from other attempts to tell the story of the LA Raiders. (NFL Films' "America's Game" on the '83 Super Bowl team - with Marcus Allen, Howie Long and Todd Christensen as its three talking heads - was near-identical in spots to what Cube did.) Terrifying and self-contradicting though he may be, it's hard to tell the story of the Raiders - or of pro football over the last 40 years - without Al Davis.
The attempt to spin the film around the ties between the Raiders and gangsta rap was interesting but not always successful. The film is structured in a way that suggests that groups like NWA rose during the glory years of the LA Raiders, when in fact the group was hitting it big at the exact moment things were going south for the football team during the Mike Shanahan era. The group's love of the team (and their imposing yet gang-neutral colors) was obvious, but I actually think the whole hip-hop/football link might have been even more compelling had Cube and the others talked about how team and group were on divergent paths - and how NWA was celebrating a mighty, intimidating team that didn't really exist anymore.
In a similar vein, Cube keeps insisting that LA will always be the Raiders home. And while I'm sure that's true to him and a generation of LA kids like him, the team's been in Oakland more than three times as long as it was in LA, won 2 of its 3 Super Bowls and 3 of its 4 championships in Oakland, were coached by John Madden there, featured more of the franchise's Hall of Famers there, etc. The LA Raiders loom large in Cube's childhood, and his rise to stardom, but the LA period (particularly the segment of that period where the team was still dominant) was a blip on the franchise's radar.
The "30 for 30" films are designed to be subjective, so of course a film made by Ice Cube would view the team in this way. I just think if he had had the ability to take a step back from himself and view that time period without his own preconceptions, the film might have been even stronger as it dealt with how a forward-looking genre like '80s gangsta rap wound up embracing nostalgia almost from the outset.
Still, fun film, particularly Snoop Dogg getting philosophical and the animated segments on Cube's childhood and the origins of NWA.
What did everybody else think?