R. Kelly: A Retrospective

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last night the Alamo Drafthouse — the best movie theater in the nation — hosted a sing-along to R. Kelly’s epic Trapped in the Closet cycle of music videos. And more. They showed the videos for all of his greatest hits from “Bump n’ Grind” to “Sex Me” to “Ignition (Remix)” (hot and fresh out da kitchen). Let me hear a beep-beep. They also had the Dave Chappelle “I wanna piss on you” spoof and a shot-by-shot remake of the first episode of Trapped put together by some kids at Reagan High School (in Austin) that was great. Sold out show. Loud crowd. Everyone got a free “oh my God, a rubber” condom — several of which wound up blown-up and bouncing around the theater during the course of the show.

I purchased my ticket Wednesday afternoon, fearing a sell-out, and e-mailed a bunch of friends in town with the Good News. Only Eric Hawthorne responded, and only to say that he couldn’t go. So the night of the show I called around and got a similarly blank response — so my dad got curious and decided to join me. I don’t think he really knew who R. Kelly was or what, exactly, he might be getting himself into… But we went. I had an iced tea at the theater to keep my mouth cold and relatively numbed from the surgery I’d had that morning (which had been very painful through the day, but all but went completely away at the Drafthouse.) And we watched the absurdity play out.

I had seen the first five chapters before — Christin introduced me to them a couple months ago. But seeing them on the big screen with subtitles and people singing along… Well, it’s a whole other experience. And once we got off into the chapters that I hadn’t seen. Well. R. Kelly has a certain kind of genius, I have to admit. And on one level you sit there, like, “This is a train-wreck — R. Kelly is a totally clueless, pompous dumbshit.” But on another level, it’s so compellingly rediculous, and R. Kelly does apparently have some solid chops as a producer and (obviously) a promoter that you can’t count him out as a total moron, so you think that this must be some kind of prank or intentional comedy piece or something, right? (I mean, look at the driving scenes. Surely, surely he knew those looked absurd.) But then you’re watching and your mind goes “nonono-way” this is terrible — unintentionally terrible. Because it seems R. Kelly’s buying into his own bullshit. And you loop back around to point A and the whole experience becomes a horrible, unending interpretive Möbius strip — and that’s the fascination, I think: What the hell is going on? And then they show some of the “artist’s commentary” from the DVD (which actually features R. Kelly sitting with his back to the viewer watching along with us and puffing on a cigar). They show the commentary and he says something like, “I decided to give Sylvester a Baretta because it rhymes with ‘dresser’.” And your mind explodes. Up is down. Left is right. Black is white.