Tuesday’s Overlooked: the Hughes Brothers

At the time (the 1990’s to be exact), the Hughes’ Brothers were considered a part of the ‘new crop of emerging black filmmakers.’ Nearly 20 years on their collective output has been rather light – their body of work consists of four features and a documentary. I have previously posted a link to a video about the brothers as seen by the critic Mark Kermode. For the record, the one feature I have not seen is the documentary American Pimp (1999) that he mentions in his video.

I chose to feature them today in my overlooked segment because I feel there work is deserving of praise  and worthy of  some attention (0r at least further critical examination), especially considering they cut their filmmaking teeth in rap videos and made their feature film debut at the ripe old age of 21.

Known for raw and patently violent depictions in their films, their movies may not be suited to everyone’s personal tastes. However when you strip away this violence you will find homages to classic cinema; for example,  Menace II Society (1993) owes a great deal, at least in its narrative structure, to another film set in the City of Angels – Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Released within a couple of years of John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood (1991), the comparisons between the two films were inevitable. At the time, I chose not to compare the films and as saw them instead as similar told different ways. In retrospect, I see them as ends of a spectrum. At the time there is no doubting that Boyz was groundbreaking in the tale that it told – life in South Central Los Angeles from the perspective of those who lived there. But for me, time has not been kind to this movie. It seems to play too much like a message film that you would see in an afterschool special. On the other hand, Menace has held up as a grittier, tougher film, with and more grounded sense of the place and time its inhabitants occupy.

Following the critical success of Menace, they made Dead Presidents, which is equally disturbing to watch due to its depiction of violence; but if you can get through it, it does tell a tale that even my Vietnam veteran father was able to relate to on some level. I have previously mentioned my liking From Hell (2001) ; so it does not bear my repeating what I liked about the film here. In fact, it is that post which got me to look more closely at the brothers’ filmography.

Away from the silver screen, there have also been a couple of forays into television, notably the U.S. adaptation of the British crime drama/mystery Touching Evil.

Nearly a decade after From Hell, the brothers were back in 2010 with the release of the apocalyptic The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. Seen by many not as a total return to form, Eli received mixed reviews but in the end accumulated a worldwide box office totaling $157,107,755 (Source: Box Office Mojo).

According to IMDB, the next project in the pipeline is the neo-noir Broken City. According to the credits, Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta Jones are attached to the project that is scheduled for release in 2014. Also according to the credits, Allen Hughes will solely be directing this film.

* Be sure to check out Todd Mason’s blog for more Overlooked Films from the various contributors.