Byron Pitt lives and breathes cinema, displaying a rare and sometimes explosive passion for the silver screen - often with unpredictable results. GeekPlanetOnline is proud to present a movies column from the self-confessed “film drunk”; a man who once yelled at an entire cinema for laughing at Johnny English…
In response to the cynicism of my last article, I’ve decided to write about something I love. My favourite film if you will.
To start let me set the scene for those who’ve heard the podcast, read my reviews and believe that my favourite film is going to be one of those typical film student type endeavours.
I was working at my local cinema when the manager told me a film student looking for a job had told him that his favourite film was Battleship Potemkin. Now having seen this movie I can say that I respect its craft, imagery and place in film history. It is an important piece. However, I found it a little hard to believe that Sergei M. Eisenstein’s Russian Soviet montage epic is a late teen's favourite...
IMAGE: Yes, great fun
CAPTION: Yes... great fun.
No offence to him or any of us youths who are really down with the classics. I mean I am too. I just find it hard to believe that after a difficult day, there’s a bunch of film students are going to put their feet and relax to Di Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. It makes me wonder what some of these guys were doing in their childhood.
IMAGE: The Walken Look
When it comes to favourite films, I admire the choices of the late Gene Siskel (Saturday Night Fever), Mark Kermode (The Exorcist) or even crazy ol’ Armond White (like ALL Spielberg). Of all the films these guys have seen, they’ve picked films that truly feel personal to them. Not just the best or important films, but the accessible ones with that escapism and rewatch factor. The main reason I believe we watch movies in the first place. Which is why if I have to be true to myself and pick a favourite film, it would mostly like be House Party.
IMAGE: In da house
Twenty years old and still as vibrant and funny as I remember it. It’s a movie that’s had me quoting lines, mimicking dance moves and humming songs since my first watch. This film had me copying Kid’s hairstyle at 14.
CAPTION: Believe it.
House Party opened my mind to the arthouse (peep the Eraserhead reference), helped infuse moral ideals and good intentions missed in so many “urban” films, but above all else...It’s a film that has always made me smile.
House Party tells the story of Kid (Christopher “Kid” Reid) a good student with musical aspirations, who has been invited to a house party held by his best friend Play (Christopher “Play” Martin). The music will be provided by their resident DJ, Bilal (Martin Lawrence), while the gorgeous Sydney and Sharane (Tisha Campbell and A.J Johnson respectively) have also decided to make an appearance. Problem is, Kid’s been grounded by his Pops (the late Robin Harris) for getting into trouble with a gang of hoods (played by the RnB band Full Force) at school. He isn’t allowed to go to the biggest party of his school year, but with that said, has that ever stopped a teen before? To say any more may ruin the fun.
A teenage film about kids having a good time, a familiar story well told with the added bonus that it’s a film that truly celebrates the vibrant aspects of Afro-American youth culture. The film has always appealed to me because, while so many urban movies deal with so many negative black issues, House Party cares only about pleasure. We all know about the Boyz in da Hoods or Menace 2 Societys, but I’ve always found them difficult to relate to because those characters just weren’t me.
The middle class black youth is considered an anomaly to many. When watching TV or movies, you could still be mistaken that they don’t exist, unless demonised in some way. Even many of the multifaceted characters of The Wire are of course drug dealers. House Party did its best to break much of this pessimism. So while the slang, music and dancing are prominent through the film, Hudlin only wishes to concentrate on the positive. Seeing a film where young black kids blow off steam with wholesome enjoyment over violence and crime is not only unbelievably refreshing, but still seemingly anomalous 20 years later.
In rewatching the film, it's interesting to see how moralistic and innocent the film is in its intent. As basic as the film's ideals are, this is a movie in which Kid, despite sneaking off to a party against his dad’s wishes, does his homework beforehand. Alcohol is introduced at the party and looked down upon. One scene has the love interest Sydney try and stop herself from swearing in front of Kid’s dad. This will mean nothing to most people, however in a cinematic world filled with porn girls next door, pie fuckers, and superbads it’s an innocence that isn’t observed as much anymore. I love American teen movies, but few of them even bother to look at aspects like this anymore. It’s the small notes of respect which we don’t usually see in a movie like this that elevate House Party above other films of its calibre.
Serious stuff aside (and I could go on), it’s impossible to describe how much enjoyment I get from this movie. The energy that flows through the film is beyond electric; it’s calledHouse Party for a reason and in no way does the movie short change you. Hudlin’s film is bright in character as well as colour (mostly due to the amusing early 90s clothing) and filled with positive (although dated) Hip-Hop music to dance to. It’s important to remember that House Party was release right in the middle of the era which many consider Hip-Hop’s most important years. It also comes a year after Spike Lee introduced cinema audiences to Public Enemy.
While Lee’s film concentrates on the band's political messages for his movie, Hudlin uses the band’s then mainstream appeal to remind us that PE were a not only a band with a social message, but were able to liven social gatherings. When you first see the party in full swing you want to be there, when the dance off takes place you want to join in, by the time rap battle comes along you're swaying with the words. Hudlin’s direction of the event makes it so infectious that I can’t help but mime the words or trip over myself in my bedroom trying to copy the dance moves.
Roger Ebert likened the film to a musical and he’s right to a degree. However, unlike many musicals, which can sometimes stop the flow of the movie to sing a song about how a character is feeling at that moment, House Party uses the music to enhance the story and push it forward. It’s not just background music for the film, at times it is the film.
Films like this need actors as bouncy as the tunes, and once again House Party delivers with its young cast. Originally Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff were in place for the leads, however, the filmmakers saw fit to give Kid 'N Play (also an early 90s Hip-Hop group) the honour. For me, a biased lover of the film, this was a masterstroke, if only for the sincerity that both leads give to their parts. Smith’s charisma would have been an interesting dynamic for such a film, but would he have the innocence that Christopher Reid gave it? The same goes for the caddish behaviour of Play, who holds a certain cheekiness along with his cocksure attitude and knowing smile. The leads have a chemistry that’s not only genuine during their dance moves (the above clip features their trademark manoeuvres) but also during the scenes where they have to act. As the film focuses more on the character of Kid, Reid shows (huge hair and all) that he is a formidable lead as well as love interest. In an age where someone as flat as Canning Tatum is considered a lead, while Robert Pattinson believes that furrowing his brow means emotion (in the Twilight series at least), what I wouldn’t pay to see the type of expression that Reid displays in his wide eyes, let alone the rest of his face.
The support have their moments too. Rewatching a young Martin Lawrence reminds me that he didn’t always have to layer himself in ridiculous make up to try and be funny. A.J Johnson plays Sharane with a lot of sass, but also as a character with a lot of confidence. Her technique to avoid end of night kisses is not only a perfect example of how to exert control over randy teenage boys, but also a nice display of her own self-confidence. Johnson plays the project tease with a nice degree of balance. Equally impressive is the young performance from Tisha Campbell-Martin (then Tisha Campbell). Better known these days for My Wife and Kids and Martin, Campbell plays Sydney with just the right amount of vulnerability and tenderness that goes hand in hand with Reid’s naivety. Their scenes are not only some of the best in the film, but their romance is also playful, wholesome and believable. Like Play states in the movie “that must have been some walk home.”
House Party is now the same age as Goodfellas but it’s a film that never gets old for me. I think with everything that I’ve said about the film, one of the reasons I respond to it is because it seems to hold a uniqueness that only its lacklustre sequels have tried to imitate. Since 1990, we’ve been deluged with urban social message flicks, over-sexualised comedies (See Def Jam’s How to be a Player) and the like. The family-driven films of Tyler Perry still have no real overseas clout as of yet and although I love him, Spike Lee will always be more involved in his politics than anything else. Much like many aspects of mainstream Hip-Hop itself, black culture in film as become just as marginalized in my view. If you ain’t following the trends then you’re just not worth it.
House Party was and still is a different beast to me. It’s a very simple film at its heart, but to me it was more than that. Young black folk, just not as gangsters, ghetto thugs or underachieving drop outs (although the role Full Force play in the movie could be argued). But lively, fun loving kids with nothing to prove and nothing to lose except maybe a little dignity on the dance floor. Middle class black kids like me, who worried about detention, missing the party and er... birth control.
The film lounges with a terrible mid-range IMDB rating of 5.6, but unlike many of those other pompous titles you may hear me yammer about, I don’t care. When thinking about this film I think of my father’s view on education: Something you can never take away once you’ve done it. With House Party I did it. I copied the hair, I tripped over the dance moves, I probably even tried out the lines. House Party: my The Breakfast Club, my Empire Records, my favourite movie.