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CRITICS PRAISE LUHRMAN’S THE GET DOWN

Will an Aussie get the birth of hip-hop right, or will The Get Down go off the rails, as Vinyl did? We’re about to find out. If the Netflix series falls short of its ambition, it won’t be for budgetary reasons—at $120 million for 12 episodes, it’s being described as the most expensive TV series ever made. Nor will it be for a lack of expertise: Luhrman’s collaborators include Bronx-born critic/author Nelson George and Grandmaster Flash himself.

Critics pretty much agree: Baz Luhrmann has created the West Side Story of rap. Don’t interpret that to mean dancers in pastel colors on playgrounds rapping “don’t push me cuz I’m close to the edge,” but it does suggest this is a colorful, romanticized vision of the Bronx in the late 1970s.

Here’s a survey of what critics from the New York area and elsewhere had to say about the show. 

Mike Hale, New York Times: Luhrmann is  “less interested in plot and character than in orchestrating big emotions the way the great Hollywood musicals did. Which leads to a Catch-22: He can get us excited with his manipulations of image and music, but he doesn’t create people or stories interesting enough to give those feelings any focus.

“That can leave talented performers high and dry, and The Get Down is a catalog of good actors struggling to bring some life to stock characters.” 

Robert Rorke, New York Post: Luhrmann “wants everything to be fabulous, and when The Get Down really kicks into gear, there’s nothing else like it on television. For those who survived ’70s-era New York, it offers an exciting trip down memory lane. Those too young to remember will be enthralled with the show’s energy and talent — and with Luhrmann’s drive to resurrect a lost world and make it beautiful again.”

Jim Farber, former New York Daily News music writer, Yahoo: “Imagine my surprise and delight, then, to find that the three episodes of the series provided to critics (out of a full 12) couldn’t be more kinetic, colorful, or touching. … ‘Over-the-top’ would be a conservative description of the director’s approach (also kindly labeled “operatic”). Luckily, hip-hop soars on exaggeration, elaborated through its boastful raps, out-sized personae, gravity-defying dancing, and Technicolor graffiti.

“The storyline that takes us there isn’t any more substantial than the one that flummoxed through Vinyl. But, like many movie musicals, plot isn’t the point. Instead the focus falls on the movement of the camera, the hues of the cinematography, the rhythm of the editing, and the integration of soundtrack and image.”

Brian P. Kelly, Wall Street Journal: “Not being a fan of Mr. Lurhmann’s much-prettified cinematic visions, I went into The Get Down with modest expectations. And this is a saccharine-dipped version of New York’s tumultuous history (one gang is more Sharks or Jets than Barksdale Organization) in which characters’ decisions are often driven not by self-interest but by a writer’s desire to create more drama. But the show is so infectiously fun—in its up-tempo numbers, production design (all high-waisted, polyester pants and vinyl-topped cars) and the historical characters who pop up (from DJ Kool Herc to Ed Koch)—that it rises above its shortcomings. Add to this the shining performances of Ms. Guardiola, Mr. Moore and Mr. Smith and it’s hard not to be charmed.”

Odie Henderson, New York’s Vulture.com: “This is a bizarre show, but the comfort with which it embraces its bizarreness is often hypnotic. I do not yet know what to make of it, but hopefully I'll have some idea before episode six, the midway point of this first season.”

Robert Bianco, USA Today: “As with most Luhrmann films, it's an odd mix of other films, from Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story to Super Fly and just about any movie you can name where Judy and Mickey decide to put on a show. And yet, thanks to the involvement of some true hip-hop pioneers including Grandmaster Flash and musical historian Nelson George, the project is suffused with authenticity and affection.”

Robert Lloyd, L.A. Times: “It is a thing by turns, and even simultaneously, ridiculous and sublime, romantic and overwrought and the most genuinely moving precisely when it’s at its corniest

“Luhrmann, who directed the feature-length opening episode himself, mucks in rapturously with the artists and the lovers — the singers, the rappers, the dancers, the spray-can painters,  most of them teenagers played by teenagers. Like all else on the director’s highly aestheticized screen, down to the last carefully placed cockroach and only seemingly out-of-place hair, they have the look. But the acting is very fine all around, as well.”

 

 

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