Ghostride the Whip
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Ghostride the Whip

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From its invention the automobile has been a major part of American life. This is love affair is mostly centered on the male portion of our population and for many getting your first car is a significant transition from boyhood bicycles to an adult form of transportation. To the owner of the car it means freedom, responsibility and most importantly a great deal of fun. Since boys will be boys now matter what their age there is a tendency to push the car to perform in a way no one in the design laboratories ever imagined. The guys will alter their cars in strange and sometimes unthinkable ways. They can make their cars jump up and down, glow with external lights and boom out music. There is a need for speed that transcends just about every other concern. Many of these new uses for the car are often introduced on the streets. One of the latest trends to hit primarily urban areas is called Ghostriding the whip. If you aren’t sure exactly join the club. Until I had a chance to review a documentary on the subject I had no idea just what this entailed. Ghostriding is a new sport, of sorts, where the driver and passengers of the car exit while the vehicle is still in motion. They then climb to the hood or roof and dance around, typically while hip-hop music is blaring. This may seem strange, perhaps even insipid but back in my day the big fad was the fire drill where everyone would get out and run around the car while at a stop light. As long as there are cars and guys such things will be part of at least some portions of the culture. As someone who grew up in Brooklyn where trains and buses where the usual means of transportation such dealings with cars is somewhat of a mystery. Still, I can understand the intrigue of such things.

This is an outgrowth of a previous fad, car surfing. This is where the passenger gets out and acts as if he is on a surf board standing on the roof of the car. The trend is also strongly the hip-hop variant called Hyphy (pronounced High-fee). It started in the San Francisco bay area and is typically known for its pounding, gritty and almost primitive use of rhythms. The dances that are associated with the music are free form with great energy and an abandonment of strictly defined movements. Sometimes the participants will follow along side the ghostriding car and dance around it as it roles forward. The term ghostriding comes from the appearance the car is driving its self. The whip portion of the name is derived from the urban slang for loud pounding music that causes people to whip around. Thanks to the internet and sites like You Tube videos of Ghostriding are all over the place. This has resulted in the knowledge and practice spreading far beyond the original location. Now, the definitive documentary of the subject is released to DVD. This film by director D.J. Vlad and producer Peter Spirer takes the subject matter seriously and provides a straight forward look at the practice. The one great thing about little independent documentaries such as this one is it broadens your world view. You might want to try this yourself, gender and age may be a factor here, but you will see a part of life that otherwise you would never be exposed to. You might ask ‘why should I care about what some insane kids are doing’. This is a valid question and the ultimate answer would be just to know what is going on in the world. You might want to consider watching this like taking a little course in anthropology. It is only natural to be curious about other facets of human behavior that you find in your usual daily routine.

D.J. Vlad has certainly done his homework for this project. The traces the origins of the Hyphy movement and how that evolved into ghostriding. The history is not just recent; he takes his documentary back in time to really explore how these trends came about, grew and caught on. This is the first film for this Berkeley graduate. If this is any indication of his future work we can expect some extremely detailed, well thought out films in coming around from him. Many may feel that this is a light hearted, silly subject bit to his credit Vlad has research the material and as a life long native of the area has personal experience to draw on. As the executive producer Spirer brings some considerable film making experience to the table. In 1994 he was nominated for an Academy Award for his film, ‘Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann’, a short documentary on the noted photographer. He has also produced several documentaries on hip-hop and rap notables like Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. He also has experience in direction and cinematography so this is someone that Vlad could learn a lot from.

At the center of the piece is local rap legend Mac Dre and his Romper Room Gang. He is used mostly for the more recent origins and growth of the Hyphy and ghostriding movements. The film journeys back in time to show that the foundation of the current movements like this are tied to the migration of the southern black population to the north and west looking for a better life. When they were met with prejudice and violence groups like the Black Panthers began to grow in numbers. Mac Dre was the creator of the Thizz movement, the forefather of Hyphy. He was murdered in 2004 becoming one of the legends and figureheads of the movement. Part of the movement is a significant amount of drug use, mostly alcohol and pot. The participants are generally considered outside what is considered normal society but as this film demonstrates this is a well developed and structured culture of its own. It encompasses every facet of a culture from clothing to relationships and language. It should come as no surprise that if you search the web for these topics most mainstream news sources will relate the dangers inherent to the movement’s practices.

What this film does is provide a complete look at Hyphy and ghostriding. It does not talk down to the audience and although there is a slant in the reporting of the facts it is overall honest; looking at the movement from several different sides. It is difficult not to get caught up in the pounding beats of the music. You will sit there mesmerized by the dancing around the moving car. Even if this is not you usually idea of a good movie you have to give credit to the professionalism of the director and producers. Parents should be warned that the film does contain behavior that is dangerous and potentially lethal. With that said this is a far more interesting documentary than I thought it would be. It is being released by Image Entertainment. It is not unusual for them to come up with a little Indy flick that is known to most. Take a chance on this one.

Posted 06/13/08

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