Thursday, April 03, 2008

Blood Beats Vol. 2 excerpt: PSTOLA

Here's an excerpt from my interview with the Inglewood-based Negro film collective Pstola, conducted in February of 2004. The complete interview is in my book Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints.

Excerpt 1:

“What kinda jobs are two niggas wit art degrees gonna get in these economic times?”
– From PSTOLAS’s Guerilla Tactics, Pt. 3

      Sitting in the bedroom-cum-workspace of Van Veen’s Inglewood home, where he’s lived since 1976, is to glean both the inner-workings of PSTOLA and the collective’s slew of influences. Countless CDs, books and videos crowd the room. African art and a huge Bob Marley poster flank a computer desk that is cluttered with papers and magazines. Weights rest on the floor, and a skateboard and snow skies are propped against the closet door. An old but working turntable sits beneath a Jamaican flag. While Van Veen (who has a degree in Communications Studies from Cal State Dominguez) lounges on the floor, his hands clasped beneath his head, Dre (Howard University, finance major) perches on the edge of the bed, and Deon (Art Institute of Santa Monica, animation) sits quietly in a corner chair. Based on received popular wisdom that Negroes of a feather flock together, these three shouldn’t even be on the same block, let alone in the same room.
      “We’re really trying to take audiences on a ride through black culture,” says Dre. “Because they – black people, white people and everybody else – never really get to see us as the complex people that we are. We know cats that, if you saw them on the street, you’d think they were just die-hard thugs.”
      “But in reality,” chimes in Jason, “they’ll be some of the most intelligent cats you’ll ever meet. They’ll be almost geeky with some of the shit that they’re into, studying insects and shit like that.”
      “Black people, especially,” continues Dre, “get into this monolithic thing. We’re either this person or that person. We don’t see – especially in entertainment – much diversity. We see set images that are kinda etched in stone.”
      “Use rap, for example,” says Jason. “Everybody’s trying to do what’s already out there, afraid to step outside the box. Most people are followers. For you to deviate and march to your own beat takes a lot of courage. Most people just want to be part of the status quo. So, whatever is hot now, that’s what all the rappers are gonna conform to. They’re not gonna show any other dimensions for fear of being called out: You ain’t hard. What you doing ain’t no real rap. That ain’t no real street shit. I think there are a lot of people hiding, not showing who they really are. They’re walking the streets in uniform, following codes. Pull them same cats off to the side and they might admit to liking the Bee Gees and Barbra Streisand – music their friends would laugh at.”
      That would be one of the most radical images committed to modern film – Negro thugs, lumps in their throats, blasting Barbra Streisand: Papa, can you feel me?
      Dre, who is an executive recruiter of finance and accounting professionals for Ryan Miller & Associates, is clean-shaven and close-cut, rocking expensive corporate drag: tailored suit, blue shirt and tie, and very nice shoes. While the roles and responsibilities within the group blur (all share writing and acting chores), Dre is more or less the producer. Deon, lightskind’d with good hair pulled into a braid that falls down his back, sports a white tee shirt and baggy blue jeans. The Silent Bob of the trio, he handles graphic design, designed their website and is co-cameraman. Jason, who works for the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) Center as a videographer and editor, is the most talkative of the trio. PSTOLA’s primary screenwriter and editor, and the director of all their shorts, he flosses a hybridity that encapsulates the group’s aesthetic and agenda: His thin but muscular forearms are heavily inked; his long hair is parted down the middle and braided for an effect that could either be Piru banger or Leimert Park boho, depending on what clothes he’s wearing – which today include an oversized brown tee-shirt and baggy, below-the-knee jean shorts. The sum effect of the various sartorial and hairstyle choices isn’t one of conflict, however, but a crackling wholeness. For all their differences, it’s the substantive points of connection – and reflection – that make the trio and their films work.

Excerpt 2:

      As the interview winds down, there’s a knock on Jason’s front door. It’s his neighbor and childhood chum, Nikki, armed with a pitcher of margaritas, a bong and some weed. Kisses all around because it’s her birfday, and they give a fuck ‘cause it really is her birfday. “Ya’ll just go on with your interview,” smiles Nikki, sitting on a corner of the bed and proceeding to pack the bong. Her arrival, and the goodies she’s brought, set the mood and stage for an impromptu example of a PSTOLA creative session at work.
      After he takes a hit from the bong, Dre wheezes and hands it back to Nikki, gasping, “Yo, you need some more water in this shit!” Everybody laughs.
      Relaxed by the party favors, Jason begins to reminisce about the days when there were real-life white people in the neighborhood, when kids could safely gather in the park a few blocks away from his home and it was a breeze to walk from his house to the local convenience market. “But I woke up one morning and there were so many muthafuckas dressed in red, it looked like the cover of the first Ice Cube album.”
      He and Nikki chuckle and shake their heads incredulously over a childhood friend who turned to gangbanging with the claim that he had no choice. “Nigga, get a job!” yells Jason, who then goes on to detail the browning of the “black” neighborhood. “Man, I was at the basketball court one day and these Training Day eses roll up, pushing one homeboy in a wheelchair – and his ass was clutching a prison basketball – and I’m standing there like, ‘Okay, how long can I stand here shooting hoops before I break, without my ass looking like a punk?’”
      “See,” interjects Dre, “that’s why I live in Culver City.”
      The room cracks up.
      “The thing that I love about Dre,” laughs Jason, “is that he’s a snob.”
      “Hella snob,” interjects Deon.
      “Yes,” concedes Dre, “I’m a hella snob. Once the rappers discover something and start rapping about it, I move on. No more Grey Goose for me ‘cause I’ve heard too many references to it in rhymes.”
      “And he ain’t one of these defeated niggas,” brags Jason. “He doesn’t use his color as an excuse for shit. In his mind, he ain’t only as good as any white boy, he runs circles around them. He definitely feels like he belongs anywhere he sets his mind on being, and that’s powerful.”
      A distant “Pop-pop-pop” sends Jason riffing on Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations in his once quiet neighborhood. “Man, niggas be firing off M-80s and shit, and no I am not exaggerating for effect. Real M-80s. And that shit starts, like in June – Happy 4th of July! That shit would not pop in a white neighborhood. Cops go on vacation and shit around here. Just straight pull out and don’t look back.”
      “Culver Ciiiiiity,” sings Dre, invoking laughter.
      “Yeah,” nods Deon sagely, “but is [living in Culver City] worth getting your ass pulled over by the cops every five minutes?”
      “Why, yes, son,” replies Dre in a nasal, over-enunciated delivery, “I think it is.” Dropping the Oreo inflections and sliding into educated Negro modulations, he adds, “The trick is to not be angry when you’re pulled over, but to be deeply hurt. Like white people.” The room roars in laughter, and he continues. “You gotta act like you’re just disappointed that they would even think to pull you over. But never angry, never belligerent.”
      “You gotta act like you Tom Bradley’s nephew,” pipes in Nikki, “like you might have read a book in your life and might actually know something about your rights.” Deon slaps his hands together and folds over in laughter.

Buy Blood Beats Vol. 2: The Bootleg Joints


ScryptKeeper said...

YES YES YES!!! Every since you intro'd me to these folx I've been so psyched about their work. Thanks for sharing more of yours, more of theirs, more of all with me and the world!

Anonymous said...

They seem like some cool people. Their video's are funny as all hell..
- Ur Persian Sun. Peace!