Illustration from F41 by Benjamin Savignac
We wrote about Jamaican gangster flick Shottas in this year's Film Issue, but until now, it wasn't so easy to get hands or eyes on a legitimate copy. Out this week is the new 2-disc Special Director's Edition which includes the official Director's Cut of the film, starring Foxy Brown's ex-boo Spragga Benz and super Marley brother Kymani, along with a trailerload of bonus features such as the soon-to-be-quoted-heavily Shottas Dictionary. We spent half a day listening to pure fiyah on the movie's website, so we feel pretty confident in telling you to splurge on the DVD. Critics actually tried to insult Shottas by saying it was as meaningless as Scarface. To which we reply, "You are not very smart, critic guys." Plus, any opportunity to watch Belly badman Louie Rankin chew up scenes is well worth the price of admission. Check DSJ's write-up from F41 after the jump.
Shottas puts the gangster flick genre on blast
By Dirty South Joe
When it comes to modern motion picture depictions of the criminally minded, Scarface, Goodfellas, the Godfather series and City of God are recognized as classics, but the genre’s best kept secret is a low budget Jamaican ting called Shottas. Filmed in 2002, executive produced by Wyclef Jean, and directed by first-timer Cess Silvera, the movie never saw proper international release, but has been making hood rounds via wildly popular bootlegs.
The film immortalizes the lives of Biggs and Wayne (played by Kymani Marley and Spragga Benz), two gangsters who move back and forth between Kingston and Miami, terrorizing drug dealers and authority figures along the way. The chemistry between the two leads is electric, the lo-fi action is relentless, and most importantly, the patois-laden gun talk isn’t overly melodramatic or watered down.
This Fall, Shottas finally officially arrives to select US cities, becoming Jamaica's first film to receive widespread stateside release in years. In a 2004 interview with Filmmaker, Silvera claims that a scoring tape was “lost” from Wyclef’s studio and “two weeks later [Shottas] was on every bootleg stand in Brooklyn.” As such, dubbed copies are as well known for ultra-violence as shoddy quality and missing scenes. Now, placeholder teleprompts like “MIKE TYSON GETS THE SHOTTAS GUNS” and “ADDITIONAL FOOTAGE OF ROBBERIES” are replaced with the intended footage.
But more important than the technical improvements of the reissue is the very fact of the long-awaited theatrical release itself, which is a cultural revelation of sorts. The film defines an era in Jamaica where gun violence had reached its apex. These are the same Kingston streets Damian Marley decried in his song “Welcome To Jamrock,” which now plays behind the film’s opening credits. Mirroring stateside hip-hop trends, gangster personas were wildly in vogue when Shottas was written and filmed, yet unlike most of their US counterparts, the lifestyle in JA was all too real. As Bounty Killer wailed on his post-millennial anthem “Look Into My Eyes,” Give us a better way, things are really bad/ The only friend I know is this gun I have.