Aficionados of hip-hop music will understandably be drawn to Chris Fiore’s fairly straightforward, competent but unexceptional documentary about the 1999 “Hard Knock Life” tour simply to hear the luminaries of the scene listed above. The musical style, however, is very much an acquired taste, and those not attuned to it will be much less inclined to put up with a healthy helping of rap, recorded–it must be admitted–at a volume which often seems positively deafening. So potential viewers of the film presumably already know who they are.
What’s more interesting in “Backstage” than the snippets of performances themselves, in fact, are the glimpses it affords of the artists as they proceed from concert to concert and interact with each other, the photographers, and their adoring public. Near the beginning of the tour, one of the performers belligerantly warns the film crew to keep the camera out of his face, and as it turns out, his inclination was the correct one: the portrait that the picture paints of the participants is, in general, not a very positive one. There are numerous segments showcasing crude, vulgar behavior, involving not only language of incredible coarseness but what appear to be instances of drugged-out or drunken orgies with near-nude camp followers (whose faces are, happily, obscured by “cute” signs meant to protect the guilty). Some of the audience may perceive the crassness on display to be simply consonant with the personas that rap culture cultivates; but unless one’s already in tune with the ethos, it’s all likely to strike you as pretty unsavory.
Still, the fact that the filmmakers have captured the backstage realities of the tour, as well as giving the audience decently-arranged snippets of the performances themselves (though some will find these segments too heavily edited and overly brief), makes “Backstage” a useful document of a cultural phenomenon that some embrace and others deplore. It’s not terribly imaginative or innovative cinematically, but it does manage to offer some insights that its subjects might have preferred to leave unrecorded.