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The Untouchables

Fools rush in, and so does British stalkumentarian and pop culture muckraker Nick Broomfield—this time churning up the murky waters that have submerged the unsolved 1996-97 murders of rap artists Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

Following leads furnished by ex-LAPD detective Russell Poole and encouraged in his mission by Biggie's doting mother, former New York City schoolteacher Voletta Wallace, Broomfield starts asking questions. Were Biggie and Tupac set up by rogue cops? Could their deaths have been arranged by rap entrepreneur Suge Knight? Did Knight's Death Row label owe Tupac $10 million, and was Tupac about to jump ship? Why were Tupac and Biggie both under FBI surveillance at the time of their assassinations? And how come none of the police suspects were ever questioned?

According to Broomfield, the theory—most recently advanced in a two-part Los Angeles Times story—that the rappers died as a result of Compton gang warfare is a cover. This is Oliver Stone country, but Broomfield's self-effacing affect is more Woody Allen, his legwork punctuated by droll asides: "I had no idea at this stage how many more meals at Denny's I'd have to eat before I got Russell's statement." Broomfield brandishes his trademark microphone boom as he barges down Baltimore's mean streets or into a Harlem housing project, but his strategic bumbling belies an aggressive questioning indicative of his legal background. He modestly characterizes Biggie & Tupac as the tale of two friends who fell out, but this boldly reckless doc is something else again—a first-person whodunit in which the filmmaker casts himself as a seedy gumshoe poking around a hallucinatory world in which poverty, crime, and drugs mix with fantastic wealth and grandiose scenarios lifted from The Godfather and Scarface.

LIfe after death: Biggie and Tupac
photo: Matthew Pierson Jr.
LIfe after death: Biggie and Tupac

Details

Biggie & Tupac
Directed by Nick Broomfield
Roxy Releasing
Opens September 27

The Trials of Henry Kissinger
Directed by Eugene Jarecki
Written by Alex Gibney
Through October 8, at Film Forum

As Biggie & Tupac is ultimately an existential quest, so Broomfield's most exciting scoop is largely self-revelation. Somehow, he manages to penetrate the maximum-security joint then holding Suge Knight. Broomfield's longtime camera operator, Joan Churchill, has bailed and her panicky replacement is flailing at the sky as the intrepid filmmaker explores the prison yard. A warden who might enjoy nothing more than mopping up Broomfield's remains escorts him into Suge's cell block, and there's the thug-master, making a phone call. Biggie & Tupac doesn't close the case, but it does make its point: Be careful what you look for; you just might find it.


Some years ago, Broomfield documented his pursuit of Margaret Thatcher. How satisfying it would have been to see him zero in on the juicy target of Henry Kissinger. For that, we have The Trials of Henry Kissinger, a more circumspect documentary.

Inspired by Christopher Hitchens's brief against Kissinger as a war criminal, filmmakers Eugene Jarecki and Alex Gibney propose that the bon vivant Nobel laureate was personally responsible for prolonging the Vietnam War, bombing Cambodia, supervising the 1973 coup in Chile, and providing the means for the bloodbath in East Timor. For much of this time, Kissinger worked for the greatest presidential outlaw in American history, but given Kissinger's genius for self-promotion, it seems fair to credit him with Richard Nixon's sins.

Kissinger's childhood experience of Nazi persecution only demonstrates that suffering is not necessarily ennobling. In his evolution from hard-nosed advocate of limited nuclear war to cynical architect of détente, Kissinger exchanged political patrons as circumstances warranted and, in his supreme career-making maneuver, helped scuttle the 1968 U.S.-North Vietnamese negotiations to advance his prospects with candidate Nixon. Such opportunism proved prophetic—and not just for Henry the K. We still live under the Kissinger doctrine that, as one British observer puts it, "international law applies to everyone except Americans."


Related Story:
"An Interview With Biggie & Tupac Director Nick Broomfield" by Geoffrey Gray

 
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