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Rap & Community: A Scene from ‘Trans’ (1998).

One of my favorite scenes in any movie, comes from Julian Goldberger’s ‘Trans’ (1998). The movie is about Ryan Kacinzski, a kid in a juvenile detention center who takes up a chance to escape and well, just sort of wanders around Southern Florida. The movie itself isn’t that great, like many low-budget, “improvisatory” independent movies, it tries to skate by on realistic cinematography and regionalism alone. Nevertheless, the movie has moments of insight, Ryan briefly reuniting with his brother, a strange scene where Ryan tries to get a train ticket for cheap, and this one:
(Sorry about the quality of the video. It wasn’t on Youtube so I was relegated to video-taping it off my television and uploading it…)

The scene comes after a strange montage wherein Ryan wanders through a 24 hour supermarket, doing whippets and talking to some lady about corn. On his way out of the supermarket, he passes by two beer-drinking, parking-lot loser types and steps on a bottle cap. One of the ‘necks taunts him for stepping on “his” bottle cap and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. The movie fades-out, presumably along with Ryan’s consciousness, we get a pretentious arty-image of a Woman in front of a sunset (???) and then it goes back to black, and the voices of some black peers calling Ryan’s name fade-in.

Their appearance in the movie is a relief for Ryan, happy to finally see someone he knows, but it is also a relief for the audience who has felt as isolated and off-balance as Ryan. The early parts of the movie in the juvenile center are sterile and oppressive. When Ryan escapes, Goldberger briefly matches the thrill of escape but slowly winds it down into a rambly, unfocused journey. The thrill of escape quickly farts-out into uncertainty and worry.

You again feel alive when these black kids, presumably acquaintances from high-school, show up. Their acting is significantly more engaging and real than the actor playing Kacinzski, who feels afraid to commit to anything. Their scenes feel actually loose and fun as opposed to artfully rough. The movie should probably just be about these guys but the independent film world is only slightly less negrophobic than Hollywood, so you know…

To me, the scene represents the inclusive nature of hip-hop culture and in certain ways, black culture, which as a whole, is a great deal more inviting and familial to all than the white, middle-class culture from which Ryan comes. He is immediately brought along with them, they recognize his dire situation and it even is suggested that this isn’t the first time Ryan has been found like this.

The kids are generally kind, offering Ryan help, but they also mock him, in part because of the hilarious situation of getting his ass beat and also, because well, I bet he’s the goofy white boy they know that is always getting in trouble. Their looking for girls and their freestyles (or attempts) about weed and pussy are realistic and used to complicate their character. For a rap outsider, the contradictory nature of being so kind and rapping about weed and girls would be hard to resolve but Goldberg wisely moves beyond racial or cultural presentation and just lets all of the character be themselves.

The failed attempts at freestyling are particularly good because often in movies, scenes of battles are often used as shorthand for authenticity or being hip to the culture. Here, it’s more like the freestyle competitions you see in your high school science class or at a party, where it’s just a bunch of people fucking around. No one sitting there thinks they are the next Nassir Jones, they’re just having fun.

The party part of the sequence does the interesting thing of being totally in Ryan’s head. We don’t hear the music they are dancing to but music that reflects Ryan’s state of mind. We get this sort of depressive, rambling, jangle-rock. His inability to fit-in has nothing to do with race which is the way most movies would develop it. They are not presented as black kids and Ryan is not presented as a white; it’s a scene about people getting along and how hospitality isn’t always accepted. Ryan’s inability to fit-in is not because of race but because he sort of doesn’t fit in anywhere. The universal reality of alienation is the focus, not the cultural specific “reality” of racial tension. Ryan’s isolation is chosen, not imposed and still, at the end, one of the kids tries one more time to offer him a place to stay. It’s a very kind and genuine scene.

Written by Brandon

July 20th, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Posted in film, rap humanism

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