Interview: John Singleton - Boyz 'N' the Brotherhood; Mike Davies Has a Four Way Conversation with John Singleton

The Birmingham Post (England), September 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Interview: John Singleton - Boyz 'N' the Brotherhood; Mike Davies Has a Four Way Conversation with John Singleton


Byline: Mike Davies

It's 14 years since LA born African-American director John Singleton burst on to the scene with his acclaimed debut Boyz n the Hood.

Since when his output has been patchy to say the least, embracing as it does his dismal second effort Poetic Justice, well intentioned but heavy handed social issues pictures, namely Higher Learning and Baby Boy and commercially successful but critically reviled director for hire money spinners Shaft and 2 Fast 2 Furious.

His 1997 race drama true story Rosewood didn't even make UK cinema screens.

He is, however, back on something like form with Four Brothers, a potent revenge action drama that's earned both favourable reviews and topped the American box office, as well as producing independent hit Hustle & Flow.

The story of how four, adoptive brothers (played by Mark Wahlberg, Andre Benjamin, Tyrese Gibson and Garret Hedlund) are reunited for the funeral of their mother, shot dead in an apparent store robbery, and set out to find her killers may sound familiar to anyone who's ever seen the 1965 John Wayne horse opera The Sons of Katie Elder.

It's a fundamentally American genre influence to which Singleton happily admits.

"I grew up watching Westerns," he grins.

"I'm from the land of the cowboy culture, where we all grew up watching cowboys and Indians, and playing with guns. America was this new frontier where people were creating their own laws in wild new territory.

"Then at a certain point some of us got a sense of enlightenment and realised the cowboys were the bad guys and the Indians were the good guys. But then in the late 60's and early 70's they started making what I call 'revisionist Westerns', taking the archetype guys from the genre and putting them in the urban centre.

"That gave you films like Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood, or Lee Marvin in Point Blank or Charles Bronson and Death Wish. All those revisionist Westerns had issues with revenge and trying to maintain the family tie with the guy who came to town having to deal with the bad guys."

But, while there's undoubtedly plenty of gunplay in Four Brothers, Singleton insists it's not your typical action picture. "Most of today's action movies are hyperactive and done by video directors who don't really have a sense of story or respect for acting or rhythm. I wanted to make a non-traditional action movie that had an emotional content to it at the same time.

"And I know there's a lot of controversy in this country with gun crime, but the violence in this movie is played for reality not for laughs, it's supposed to make you disturbed."

It was also important that thefilm's urban setting reflected the mood and subtexts for which Singleton was aiming, He chose Detroit, the former motor city home of Tamla Motown"Detroit is a complex place," he explains.

"It's the place of the birth and the death of the American revolution and now it's known as the rust-belt. You go there to the gas station and buy a crack-pipe for $5 and a razor-blade for 50 cents to cut your crack. So much greatness has come out of that city but lately the only thing is Eminem, for better or for worse.

"So it was a real interesting place to have a real urban film. You'll hear that music I chose is not the traditional Motown music either. It's the psychedelic soul that was made between 1969-1974, when the Vietnam War was going on, the Black Power Movement was happening, the hippie generation was dying out and trying to find it's way, and America was at a confusing point.

"The music of Motown during that era reflected that it was less romantic and more cynical and more reflective.

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