Remember those heady days of the early 1990’s when it looked like there was a resurgence in black cinema and an exciting new class of black filmmakers who would lead the charge? Yes, black cinema has definitely had it’s ups and downs over the past decades, and once again, we just might be in the midst of another period of renewed vitally and originality.
Although during the 90’s, we could’ve said the same thing, as it also looked like the run black cinema was experiencing would continue forever. Of course Spike Lee was at the head of the table; but there were many other black filmmakers making names for themselves during that period. Some have since faded into seeming obscurity; but there are others who are still in the game, like Lee’s former cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, who made the move from director of photography to director, with his first feature film “Juice”.
Independently made and released by Paramount in 1992, “Juice” chronicled the story of four tight friends in New York City who, while not hanging out, having fun, obsessed with hip hop, are uncertain about their lives lives, directionless. Determined to prove their “street cred” or “juice”, they pull off a robbery of a local corner store. However, as you’d expect, things don’t go well for them after that.
The film provides a vivid look at the early New York hip hop scene, and is populated by pioneers of the era such as Fab Five Freddie, Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, Queen Latifah and other music legends, making cameos in minor roles.
The film also features some terrific acting performances by a young Omar Epps, Kahil Kain and Jermaine Hopkins. And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson in a minor role, right around the same time he would get his breakout role in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.”
Finally, there’s the electric presence of Tupac Shakur, in his first screen role, playing the eventually sinister member of the group of friends, who turns on them for survival.
Interestingly, Shakur originally had no intention of even acting in the film. He happened to come along with a rapper friend of his who was auditioning for a role in “Juice,” and, on a lark, the producers and casting director asked Shakur to read for the part that he would play in the film. They were so impressed that he got the part instead.
Dickerson proved with “Juice” that he was not only more than just a talented DP, but was an exceptional director as well. Or as Entertainment Weekly’s review of “Juice” said at the time: “Dickerson has instantly arrived at the forefront of the new wave of black directors. His film aims for the gut, and hits it.”
Today Paramount Home Video has announced that they will be releasing a new 25th anniversary blu-ray of “Juice” on June 6th. The film has never been released on blu-ray before. So far no extras features have been announced, but surely it will include at least a director’s commentary, as well as some other features with Dickerson, as well as the cast, all talking about the making of the film, and more.
However, it would be interesting to see if this new blu-ray release will include, as an extra feature, the film’s original ending that the studio changed and reshot, since the original ending did not test well with preview audiences.
Here’s an original trailer for the film: