Is Fred Astaire REALLY Eminem's father?

Or, do we really want to know what boys are thinking?

Posted: Thursday, December 05, 2002

Yo! Eminem, The Movie, is in town. You can tell by the clots of steaming 14-year-olds leaving the theater seconds after they went in, looking, they had hoped, mature enough to reach up with their $8.75 and score a ticket.

The Last Word by Fern Chandonnet. He can be reached at

The movie is titled "8 Mile," actually, and, though rated "R" (hence the ejection and outraged humiliation of the adolescents), it's about family values - as seen through the eyes of a (mentally) 14-year-old boy whose primary form of expression is the extended whine.

Right now you're probably asking yourself, "What the...?"

Let me explain.

"Eminem" is the nom de plume of one Marshall Mathers (two "m's," get it?) and hearkens back as well to a bit of brightly colored candy. (Note that the sobriquet could also apply to Mickey Mouse. Coincidence? I wonder.)

Eminem in real life has dedicated himself to translating rap "music," essentially a black idiom, into a form of white expression - which is to say: black music disconnected from its social and historical roots.

Imagine, if you will, Vice President Cheney singing "Wha'd I Say?"

Elvis Presley did it to Little Richard about 50 years ago. (Who can forget Little Richard's plangent "Tutti Fruiti," with his evocative a-wop-bop-a-loom-bop-a-wop-bam-boom"? And, really, who can at all remember the later version by the Great Tupelo Hayseed himself, Presley?)

A decade or so later the Beatles tried to do it, claiming in countless interviews a connection with black American blues singers. They never pulled it off, though, and instead wound up making a good living hawking their ganja-directed music-hall remakes. (I mean: "Strawberry Fields"? GET REAL! I think you have to escape from Liverpool very early on - say, at age 5 or 6 - to get the fish-and-chips out of your breath.)

The Rolling Stones took a good shot at it but couldn't get no satisfaction - the sentiment that precisely defines the whining 14-year-old, that ubiquitous persona before which the world's entertainment moguls now genuflect.

Put 50 pounds around Ray Charles' middle, introduce him to Michael Jackson's secrets of bleaching, add one teaspoon of itch powder to his shorts and, voila, Joe Cocker.

You get the picture.

It's a tough job, out-blacking black people, but that's precisely what Eminem sets out to do in the film, there in burnt-out Detroit. (He even is complicit in burning down a building - that ancient and hallowed tradition among the Detroitese - though he does it half-heartedly: The house has no people in it.)

The opening scene sets the tone for all that is to come: Eminem throws up, twice, after which he attempts to engage in a rap competition. His nerve fails him, though, and he is mute. Thus he leaves the scene in dejection and outraged humiliation (see above).

On his CDs, Eminem is notorious for parading his fears. He does this via attacks on a number of groups, including gays, women and, most notably, his mother. The film continues as a vehicle for these attacks, though he does sort of come to the aid of a gay guy in it - mostly to impress a girl on the periphery of the group, which, as we know, is the prime motivator of all charitable acts by males aged 12 to about 28.

As for the women, they are meat. Especially Mom, whom Eminem captures in flagrante delicto on the couch in the trailer where she, and Eminem and Mom's purveyor of flagrantes live. Mom, played by Kim Basinger, gives a delicate, refined performance as a stinking, self-centered tramp.

Predictably, Eminem piles insults on Mom's head, as he does on his girlfriend's later on. It must be noted, however, that he and the girlfriend do give a delicate, refined performance as they tenderly couple against a rusty girder in a stamp mill. (The skinny girlfriend reminded me of Madonna, the famous pop-tart, though the translator I'd brought to the theater with me asserted that the girlfriend should properly be called a "skank." A note to the wise: If you are unable to bring along a translator, you may have trouble deciphering what's going on, since there are no subtitles.)

Anyhow, there's a lot of this flagrante going around, and later Eminem catches his girlfriend at it.

It is telling, perhaps, that Eminem's name in the film is Rabbit.

You know, of course, that Eminem will succeed - much as you know that Sylvester Stallone always succeeds - by uttering profound truths and beating up people considerably larger than he.

This is, after all, a 14-year-old's fantasy.

Now, the odd reader, upon perusing the mug shot, above, may well dismiss my observations as antiquated. Well, to that person I say, "Your mother wears Army boots, pal." I will be the first to admit that such hilarious absurdities as are depicted in "8 Mile" have substantial antecedents: Buzby Berkeley's kaleidoscopic soft porn; Fred Astaire's dance with a coat-rack, for God's sake; Annette Funicello acting ... well, being in any film. (A point of interest: Ms. Funicello, of beach-blanket-bimbo-film fame, was for years a principal on early television's "Mickey Mouse Club." Another coincidence? I think not.)

There's an endless line of sires to "8 Mile," each awaiting his turn.

Now, the question begs to be asked: Why would the producers of the film aim it at 14-year-olds and at the same time hang an "R" on it (by including all that flagrante business and making about a third of the dialogue the f-word)? After all, "R" consigns 14-year-olds to ejection and outraged blah blah.

So why do it?

Well, duh.

Half a star - and that's mostly because of Kim Basinger, for whom I would gladly beat someone up, or even act charitably.

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