Biggie & Tupac

At its core, it's a brilliantly simple, distinctly American strategy: plunder topics from the headlines of the most widely watched media outlets, invest a negligible amount of money and enough research so that you'll at least appear knowledgeable, and bundle it all together in a gritty, pseudo-news documentary form. Go straight to video with thousands of VHS tapes peddled on TV and available at your local Blockbuster Video. Then proceed to chortle all the way to the proverbial bank. Call it sensationalism or call it iconography. Tomato, tomahto. If the subject matter is popular enough, there's no doubt people will pay.

Therein lies the true genius of Nick Broomfield. You've undoubtedly seen commercials for his videos, especially if you're the type to stay up late flipping randomly through your hundred-some mind-numbing cable channels. His Web site credits him with upward of 20 films, most of which have never made it to our shores from the U.K. There are three, though, that for obvious reasons have captured American attention: Heidi Fleiss Hollywood Madam, Kurt & Courtney, and the recent Biggie & Tupac, which, after a brief stint in theaters, has found its way onto VHS and DVD.

It is tempting, especially for someone with even a single cynical bone in her body, to dismiss Biggie & Tupac as nothing more than a thinly veiled scheme to capitalize on black America's love for its two slain stars. It'd be even easier to question the audacity of someone who exists so fundamentally outside the world of hip-hop-namely, a thirtysomething white Londoner who looks disturbingly like the asshole judge from American Idol-who thinks that he, somehow, has stumbled upon secrets of two murder cases that the FBI, the LAPD, and a relentlessly curious Volletta Wallace (Biggie's mother) have failed to discover. And to top it off, Broomfield's legitimacy is made even more suspect every time he pronounces Tupac's name as if it rhymes with "poo shack," as if the rapper were known as one-third of a six-pack. Two-pack. Because, damn, if that isn't annoying.

Somewhere along the production line, though, Biggie & Tupac morphed into something much more. Something unfluffy; something with a backbone; something even (gasp!) important. The film begins with a focus on the past, biographically charting the rise of two stars. There is commentary from Tupac's former acting teacher, as well as scenes with his biological father. There is also a rare handycam scene of a young and slightly skinnier Biggie straight ripping shit to a circle of friends in Bed-Sty.

But it is when Broomfield starts getting into the meat of their murders that the excitement begins. Broomfield bounces between U.S. coasts, traveling from New York to Los Angeles and back repeatedly to meet with a cast of characters who are clearly discomforted by the information they possess. What begins to emerge is a conspiracy theory that harks back all the way to the 1960s, when J. Edgar Hoover's paranoia led to the FBI following powerful black leaders for fear of an uprising that would topple the American white establishment. There is a now-retired LAPD officer who claims to have been pressured off the force for his interest in the Tupac case. Former officers who worked at Death Row while off duty are now suspiciously isolating themselves on horse ranches far away from the music industry. And in a twist that just screams Hollywood, there is a fat, slouchy white man who claims to have gotten involved in the murder plots when he ran into Suge Knight at a gentleman's club in L.A. And get this: he calls himself "The Bookkeeper."

If it sounds complicated and difficult to follow, that's because it is. Clearly, Broomfield's intention with the film was not to provide a definite solution to the as-yet unsolved murders of Biggie and Tupac. Rather, it is an exposé in the truest sense of the word. And in this sense, Broomfield does a fine job unearthing facts and details that are integral to the understanding of the case, at least as he presents them. Regardless of what people may say about his standing as a journalist, it is undeniable that Broomfield is not (totally) afraid to dig into areas that some would prefer undug. And the punchline? Well, since Biggie & Tupac was released, the LAPD has reopened the Christopher Wallace (Biggie) murder case and for the first time appear to be investigating how it might be related to the murder of Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas.

I recently was fortunate enough to speak with Nick Broomfield from his home in London. Despite the fact that he continues to refer to him as "Two-Pack" and even mentions his former record mate, "Snyewp Dogg," it was an interesting conversation that revealed a man intent on understanding not only America's idols, but also the very heart of America itself. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply