The Get Down is colourful drama with cultural and historic significance
Whenever Australian director Baz Luhrmann puts his name to a visual product as director or creator, we can be quite sure the music will be one of the fundamental elements in the product. In his Moulin Rouge his actors performed a couple of tracks and for The Great Gatsby he managed to collect an impressive list of pop stars for the soundtrack, including Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey and Jack White. His new Netflix original series The Get Down actually has both. The main roles get their musical moments and stars like Miguel, Zayn, Christina Aguilera and Janelle Monáe all delivered the goods for the soundtrack. The series Luhrmann created and directed the first episode of, was released on the video streaming platform on the 12th of August. Here’s A Bit of Pop Music’s review of everything that went down in this interesting series so far.
Luhrmann walked around with the idea for The Get Down for at least ten years and now the first part is out there. Six episodes are on Netflix and the next part of the first season will follow in 2017, according to IMDb. The story is set in the Bronx, New York, in 1977, when there is a lot of social unrest. At the same time those are the golden days of disco and the start of the genre that we now know as hiphop. We follow the young student Ezekiel (Justice Smith) who is a gifted poet and finds out he could become an MC after he randomly meets drug dealer and street guy Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), who plans to become a successful DJ. The two team up with Ezekiel’s friends and form The Get Down Brothers. In the meantime Ezekiel’s friend and love interest Mylene (Herizen Guardiola) tries to start a career as disco diva, against the will of her religious father.
Although the series is an eclectic mix of genres and there is a wide variety of topics touched upon, every episode breathes music from start to finish. The sound editing is superb with the use of a lot of samples and more than once we get to hear and see smart cross cutting between Mylene’s singing and the boys practicing their beats and rhymes. Most episodes start with a story related rap by Nas, who voices a future Ezekiel who actually became a hiphop star and looks back on his upbringing in the Bronx through his tracks. The series brings us not one, but two delicious original disco hits, on which Chic’s Nile Rodgers contributed. They actually sound like they were successful in the 70s! The first one is Mylene’s first single in the story, ‘Set Me Free’, which is performed convincingly more than once by upcoming star Herizen Guardiola. The ‘And I will ascend above the highest of the clouds and make myself like the most high’ part is such a moment throughout the last two episodes. We also get the all sorts of brilliant ‘Telepathy’ by Christina Aguilera, which is perfectly used in a significant scene for Dizzee (Jaden Smith) in a gay club full of drag queens and voguing. Of course there is enough room for disco classics to shine as well. Both Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls’ and Vicki Sue Robinson’s ‘Turn The Beat Around’ perfectly set the mood.
Although the cast does not exist of a lot of established big names, the acting is top notch. Herizen Guardiola and Justice Smith both shine as the charismatic couple in the main roles. Their chemistry glows off your screen and they are convincing in a moving scene where Ezekiel tells Mylene about a traumatic experience that night. Justice Smith might move your tears one more when he reads Ezekiel’s poem to his teacher. Quite the powerful moment! Jaden Smith surprisingly shines in a brave role as the slightly eccentric and creative graffiti artist Dizzee. Characters like Shoalin Fantastic and club owner Cadillac sometimes feel slightly caricatural, but this never feels out of place in the colourful and fast paced show.
Although the first 90 minutes long episode directed by Luhrmann might feel a bit fragmented and all over the place, all story lines are perfectly intertwined throughout the episodes and the other directors, Ed Bianchi, Andrew Bernstein and Michael Dinner, show true talent for cross cutting between climaxes in the stories of related characters which is a pleasure to look at. Some reviewers have already spoken about the series with terms as ‘mess’ and ‘madness’, because of the many genres the makers try to combine, but I’d say it is a refreshing sort of madness that bounces between sugary sweet romance, some raw gangster violence, musical scenes and political drama. It is a visual spectacle full of colours anyway which is quite surprising in itself with a burning ghetto as a background.
Not many have attempted to tell the story of of The Bronx in the 70s through the eyes of a group of teenage guys so it is safe to say Luhrmann presents us a brave and ambitious project with cultural and historic significance. Most storylines are fictional, but take place against a real background of poverty and unrest in New York. The Get Down takes on a lot and that might be too much for some, but it is both visually and musically a thrilling ride!