Friday, March 5, 2010

THE AVON BARKSDALE STORY: LEGENDS OF THE UNWIRED - A BADASS DOCUDRAMA REVIEW




THE AVON BARKSDALE STORY: LEGENDS OF THE UNWIRED - A BADASS DOCUDRAMA REVIEW

THE AVON BARKSDALE STORY: LEGENDS OF THE UNWIRED (ABSLOTU) is not a documentary but a docudrama. Calling something a docudrama leaves a door wide open for poetic license. This is one of the several problems with this production from K.A.J Enterprises. If you were a fan of HBO’s THE WIRE, there is no doubt in my mind that you still have a hankering for more of that Baltimore story. The character development was top-tier, and the stories that were told rang strangely true. ABSLOTU wears an unspoken badge stating that WIRE fans will catch a glimpse of the world that they seriously invested in. They won’t.

ABSLOTU does tell the story of the real Nathan Avon Barksdale. It goes to great lengths to chronicle his history and even sports some serious interview time with the man himself. This docudrama also looks into other actual human beings that were fictionalized on THE WIRE. Part of the thrust is to show that David Simon, the man behind THE WIRE, lifted these people and some of their stories for the HBO series. Simon was following the Barksdale cases back when he was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. Serious WIRE-heads have heard whispers about Simon’s pillaging of real-life “bad actors” for his show, and ABSLOTU makes this a part of that argument.

What ABSLOTU succeeds with is the presentation of the heroin trade on the streets of “Bodymore Murdaland” and how a youngster could rise to power. The film also speaks to the corruption of the project police and the way young kids are exposed to NC-17 levels of real-life violence. Interviews with Avon, his mother, his lieutenant, a cellmate, and some local boxing coaches do a great job of painting the hopelessness of the drug-dealing lifestyle and how lives are ruined by it. Avon himself walks with a limp from a lost foot due to his shenanigans as a young punk. Unfortunately the sensationalism of the whole presentation keeps it from really being something special.

This production could have been tweaked in any number of ways to let the gravity of Avon’s behavior sink in. Avon is a man who dealt with the courts on murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and all sorts of assault. The stories of his viciousness (braining a man in court with his metal cane for example) are so brazen, it is no wonder Simon swooped Avon’s name and legend for THE WIRE. Barksdale’s own mother even nonchalantly tells of her son shooting someone in the leg and that individual bleeding to death.

Barksdale breaks down his drug wars and his ninety-four percent cut solution. He tells of dropping manhole covers off the fourteenth floor of the projects to scare competition and lightly refers to it as “dropping pizzas.” He speaks of how he loved crooked cops because he could throw some dollars at them and they would leave him alone. When Avon is on the mic in this docudrama, it is really something to behold because he is such a badass. It is a real letdown when the film leans on other means to get the Avon story across.

For instance, there are various re-enactment scenes that are corny, high-school camera hijinks status. When guns are fired, there is a small flame animation at the muzzle while the acting and dialogue is forced and unnatural. Think of the worst crime re-enactment footage you have seen on the lousiest, broken-rate, syndicated television show, and that is what you get in ABSLOTU. It is understandable that some of the crimes needed to be re-enacted, but the amateurish way in which these are handled with is rather painful.

The force that should be holding this docudrama together is Wood Harris who portrayed Avon Barksdale in THE WIRE. But Harris is obviously out of his element, and there is even a moment when Barksdale verbally snaps at Harris that really shows who is running the show.

The weakness of Harris’ interview pieces are minor compared to the real problem with ABSLOTU which is the narration of Troy May. May’s delivery is overwritten and actually smacks of that sleazy CHEATERS-style, re-enactment television narration.

Couple this with a soundtrack from the (impossible to Google) rapper Zin-Jin and the (similarly scarce) production company BrownVision Media Group, and the whole docudrama falls even shorter. The mediocre, rap music listed for ten different songs is limited to long repetitive rehearsals of lyrics like, “Its time to die, motherfucker, time to die.” These pieces of music are laid over the dramatic re-telling of the Barksdale gang’s exploits and come off sensationalized and powerless.

There is some good underneath it all though. This Barksdale character is a real talker. He presents himself as the uncle that your parents warned you to stay away from. There is no question about his criminal nature or his ability to smoke someone point blank if necessary. What is cool about him, though (in that forbidden uncle way), is his sense of humor and his relaxed tone. He does joke about the violence he used to deal out and the lack of a statute of limitations in regards to murders he may have been involved in.

Nathan Avon Barksdale is now a reformed thug that somehow survived twenty or more bullets (he claims to have three bullets in his head). He is a definite street legend and fascinating to watch. Barksdale’s nephew even volunteers information about how the Barksdale family is now trying to positively change the community, and Avon himself gives a heartfelt plug for the education of the youth. He is as street as they come; watching him is akin to observing some fantastic natural occurrence that doesn’t happen too often.

If you miss THE WIRE, ABSLOTU doesn’t bring it back. This production is so shady that when WIRE characters are shown in photographs with their hood counterparts, their faces are blurred out. Part of this lends to the street authenticity of this docudrama, but it really smacks of a bottom of the barrel budget and a capitalization on THE WIRE.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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