As is common when Hollywood loses one of its greats, over the last 24 hours industry veterans and fans alike have emerged to share their sentiments about Curtis Hanson, the Oscar winning director who sadly passed away from natural causes at 71 this Tuesday.
Among those grieving is Marshall Mathers, whom you probably know better as Eminem and the star of Hanson's 2002 semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile. Speaking to Billboard Magazine, the multi-platinum award-winning artist told of his respect and gratitude to the director who shared his vision to transform an off-kilter idea into something that would later become a box office smash.
"Curtis Hanson believed in me and our crazy idea to make a rap battle movie set in Detroit. He basically made me into an actor for '8 Mile.' I'm lucky I got to know him."
It was Hanson's belief in Eminem's idea that tied him to the project in the first place — both Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle were in early discussions to helm — and together, alongside writer Scott Silver, they formed a creative powerhouse that produced one of the greatest movies fronted by a musician in cinematic history.
Unlike most film debuts from pop stars who feel like dipping their toes in cinema, transferring musical talents to the big screen — I'm looking at you, Mariah Carey's Glitter, Spice Girls Spice World and Britney Spears's Crossroads — 8 Mile didn't pander to the typical trite, but rather concentrated on the struggle of a lyrically talented, blue-collar white boy trying to make it as a rapper in a predominantly black field.
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That doesn't mean to say Eminem's musical talents weren't a huge part of the movie's brilliance; it's impossible to talk about 8 Mile without mentioning its banging soundtrack — after all, "Lose Yourself" was the first and only rap track to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
From its opening of Mobb Deep's "The Shook Ones," which contains a line that becomes a motif of the movie — "'Cause ain't no such things as halfway crooks" — to South Central Cartel's "Gang Stories" with the bar "The gang related, don't be another nigga on my shit list," which plays as Eminem's character Jimmy gets the living shit beat out of him, every track magnifies the movie's energy and its narrative complexities.
The storyline follows Jimmy Smith, known to his friends as Bunny Rabbit, as he struggles to achieve his goals while dealing with an alcoholic mother (Kim Basinger), rival gang "The Free World," a girlfriend (Brittany Murphy) banging one of his best friends, and poor social standing. The battles Jimmy faces not only mirror the hardships Eminem himself dealt with before signing with Dr. Dre, but its name is a direct reference to a street in Michigan, 8 Mile road.
This eight mile stretch of cement carries huge significance, for it both physically and culturally divides the wealthier, white, northern suburbs of Detroit, from the poorer "Michigan Highway" — a predominantly black city. A divide that is illustrated in the movie via the rival gangs; Jimmy's crew, Three-One-Third, are wannabes, living at home with their parents and working dead-end jobs, while their rivals have record deals, shiny cars, guns and girls.
Yet despite this, 8 Mile completely avoided becoming your bog standard rags-to-riches tale, and that's what, for me at least, made the movie such an achievement. At this point, Eminem had already released albums The Slim Shady LP, The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, and was a multi-platinum award-winning artist in his own right — he didn't need this movie to make him a star, we knew this already.
So, rather than focusing on Jimmy making it big, we saw Jimmy going from bad to a little bit better, resulting in a movie that still punched some good feels — that last rap battle, my God — while actually reflecting the rap competition in Detroit at the time, raising pertinent questions about racial segregation, class and stereotypes, and garnering a lot of respect for the hip-hop industry from the mainstream.
To celebrate this achievement then, stick the soundtrack on and tip a hat to Curtis Hanson — because he completely deserves it.
Feel free to pay your respects to Curtis Hanson in the comments!