Jay-Z in Fade to Black Review

Fade to Black comes straight to DVD in the UK having earned a theatrical run in the US. This is perhaps understandable as Jay-Z – the rapper who’s “retirement” this documentary captures in the form of studio footage of his recording his final album, The Black Album, and concert footage of his farewell gig at Madison Square Garden, New York – has less of a cultural significance over here. Yet it’s also worth asking why this film was screened in cinemas in the states. Indeed, cinematically speaking there is nothing out of the ordinary to be found here.

Taken as a concert film, pure and simple, Fade to Black does little that you wouldn’t expect from your standard DVD offering. The various guest star-laden numbers are captured unobtrusively in the expected fashion: cameras are placed on- and off-stage, both in and out of the audience, the majority of whom get their faces onscreen at some point or other. And in shooting on digital video rather than film stock, the normality of Fade to Black and its execution are further enhanced.

Of course, this shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a bad thing. In avoiding the tricksy and by not drawing attention to itself, Fade to Black is able to document the concert with minimal fuss – and this it does well. It may come across as somewhat limited in the sound department (the DD5.1 mix being effectively mono for the most part), but otherwise we get a faithful recreation of the gig. Indeed, fans of Jay-Z wishing to pick up this disc will find little of fault in this respect.

And yet, as a cinematic feature, perhaps Fade to Black should have attempted a more widespread appeasement. For whilst the concert footage is effectively sound, the recording studio sections which occupy a fair chunk of screen time most certainly is not. Indeed, any newcomer to Jay-Z will be completely lost. We have no idea as to which songs are being recorded, who any of these people are or what their significance is. Rick Rubin, for example, one of hip-hop’s key producers of the last twenty or so years, is introduced solely as “Rick” and revealed to be a little bit weird; we never learn of why he is working with Jay-Z or vice versa, or what makes either of them earn their success or acclaim – it is simply presumed that we’ll know all of this already. Indeed, the editing process has led of all this footage to amount to little more than snippets of Jay-Z and his cohorts goofing off or some shameless sycophancy at the expense of actually learning something. It comes as no surprise to learn that Jay-Z himself was involved in Fade to Black from start to finish (the first title is “A Shawn Carter Film”, the rapper’s real name) and therefore, perhaps, no surprise to discover that it’s a film designed solely to accommodate his fans.


01. Song Cry
02. Is That Yo Chick
03. What More Can I Say
04. 99 Problems
05. Roads Must Roll
06. Crazy in Love
07. P.S.A.
08. Baby Boy
09. H.I.Z.Z.O.
10. Summertime
11. Jigga What
12. Allure
13. Give It To Me (I Just Wanna Luv U)
14. Big Pimpin’
15. Dirt Off Your Shoulder
16. Hypnotize
17. Hard Knock Life
18. Hail Mary
19. I Need Love
20. Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems
21. Best of Both Worlds
22. Rock the Mic
23. December 4
24. Dead Presidents
25. Ain’t No…

The Disc

Fade to Black’s presentation on disc is exactly what you’d expect from a new release. Shot on digital video it looks as good as could be expected given the format. The image is consistently, presents no technical problems and is anamorphically enhanced to boot. As for the soundtrack, the DD5.1 mix is, as said, rather limp, though I suspect this is a fault inherent in the film itself and not the disc. Indeed, technically speaking it demonstrates no problems.

The extras are, on the whole, rather pleasing. The 20-minute featurette is far more revealing that the film itself, identifies the various contributors and actually allows us to learn something. Moreover, its various contributors, from cultural commentator Nelson George to fellow rapper Q-Tip, actually have something to say, unlike their counterparts in Fade to Black itself. Likewise, the one deleted scene is absolutely fascinating as we’re taken into the mastering process and witness a heated argument which, I believe, has something to do with deadlines, though the sheer volume means that this is difficult to make out.

Elsewhere, we find the music video for the track ‘Encore’, though this is essentially reconstituted concert footage, and the original theatrical trailer. As with the main feature, all extras come with a host of optional subtitles (see sidebar). Please note, however, that these only relate to the spoken word and not to any of the lyrics.

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