A Case for Dead Presidents

Firstly, let me be clear, this is not an ideological rant ending with a call to arms for a particular president to meet his/her demise (we all know it’s his). For now, as far as I know, old tango head is safe. My case for Dead Presidents is a look back at, what I feel, is a lost classic and overlooked gem from the 90’s, as well as my plea to absolutely no one in particular, to release this film on blu-ray. I need it.

As I sit here writing this somewhat coherent text on my bluetooth keyboard, it may seem hypocritical of me to pine for the analogue days of my youth. I’d be lying to say I prefer writing with a pen to typing on this keyboard, but one thing I’m certain I will never grow out of, is the need to own a physical copy of a film I like, than to simply download the digital version. I probably have more regrets in life than the two I’m going to state here, but right now nothing else is taking precedent; I couldn’t bring myself to say “trumping the others” due to my deep disdain for old rectal lips, although I’ve said it now, so I’m confused. Anyway, I digress.

Regret number one:

Around the age of 10 or 11 I forcefully declared to my mum that I was no longer a little boy and toys were no longer needed in my life. They could all go. My mum being the caring, upstanding and empathetic person that she is, could probably foresee the time around ten years later when I’d declare that selling all my toys would be the biggest regret of my life, therefore double and triple checked that I was sure about this. Yes, I was. I was going to high school soon, toys were a thing of the past. What a little nob‘ead I was. A small sampler of this epic collection, which I had amassed through the generosity of birthday/Christmas/general kindness presents over the previous 8 years or so, included original Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, original Transformers (long before Michael Bay ruined them), original Ghostbusters, Batman and a couple of Batmobiles (‘89 & ‘95 incarnations), several Avengers, a couple of Han & Lukes and, somewhat bizarrely, Last Action Hero toys. I had a strange affinity to that film as a child. Despite the last entry, it was an immense collection and selling it to a random person who saw the advert in the Loot for approx. £30 is the single biggest regret of my life. I know, I’m a child.

Regret number two:

Videos. Next to buying toys and football shirts (which I’m glad to say is definitely a thing of the past), buying videos was my next favourite childhood purchase. And before the futuristic DVDs would come in to play, video buying was very much something that continued in to my teen years. Some of my favourite films were first seen on video. Goodfellas, rented from the video shop (glory days) and Godfather parts 1 & 2. Although, the first time I saw part 2, after buying the trilogy from HMV on Market Street in Manchester (at one time the greatest shop on earth in my eyes), it was recut to show all of the De Niro scenes altogether. For a long time I thought that was the only version of the film. I’ve still not figured out why they did that. Anyway, there I go again, apologies. As you would imagine, having watched and bought videos for around 12 years I’d gained a pretty sizeable collection. And by sizeable, I also mean that literally. For those old enough, videos were huge in comparison to blu-ray’s, and I could also never comprehend that videos in America were even bigger. As a kid I thought this meant their videos were better; there’s some kind of logic in there, I think. Standouts of the collection included the ‘97 rerelease of the original Star Wars Trilogy, previously mentioned Godfather Trilogy, Die Hard Trilogy, Teenage Mutant Turtles Trilogy, Speed and The Net. As a child/teenager, film wise my interests appeared to be trilogies and Sandra Bullock. This collection doesn’t even include some of the gems which I’d taped off the telly. I won’t get started on the glories of taping something off the telly, but for those who’ve ever written on the side of a video “DO NOT TAPE OVER”, you definitely understand . Another video which I owned, was Dead Presidents. I have also owned it, and still do, on DVD. That elusive blu-ray continues to escape me though. More of that shortly. Like my toy collection, my videos were sold. However, whereas they were sold to the luckiest child that’s ever lived (possible exaggeration), the videos dwindled over the years, probably given away or sold at 8am at a local car boot to someone called either Barry or Derek. I know it’s daft of me to wish I still had these, as most of them I own on blu-ray (I should seek out The Net), but it speaks to a time and place that will never come back. Maybe this is the place to start the video revolution to be go alongside the vinyl renaissance of recent years. It could well be the hipster’s nostalgic item of choice. Nah, probably not. Anyway, all I’m saying is that all of my life I’ve loved buying and owning films, whether that be videos, DVDs or blu-ray. And next to my toys, I just want them back. Again, I know I’m a child and a bit of a sad act, but that is something I accepted many years ago, so cheers and nice one.

Apparently this is another classic from ‘95

That was probably the most long winded, self indulgent way of getting to the initial point. When I look at my film collection and scan to the D’s, there is a gap which needs filling. Dead Presidents, for me, is the lost film of the 90’s. It’s the lost Vietnam movie, it’s the lost heist movie, it’s the lost movie on being black in America and it’s the lost New York movie. This blog isn’t a review of the film, merely a testament to my appreciation of it’s existence, but I will explain briefly what it’s about.

Set in late 60’s New York, three friends enlist, or are drafted, to fight in the Marines in Vietnam. Upon returning the lack of progress, especially for the lead protagonist Anthony (a magnetic Larenz Tate) to be able to hold down a job and support his family, having risked his life for a country that treats black and Hispanic people as second class citizens, is increasingly difficult to reconcile. This leads to desperation in the form of a heist to steal “old bills” which will soon go out of circulation. Hence where the film gets it’s title from. I won’t go on, as to not spoil anything, as I would hope the three people that read this will now seek it out.

It’s safe to say that I love this film. I was only 9 when it came out, and probably saw it for the first time when I was 13. I’m not sure why it hasn’t stood the test of time, as far as it’s durability, or why it wasn’t received as well critically as it perhaps would be now. I know nothing of the co-directors, and brothers, Albert and Allen Hughes; but you have to wonder why two directors whose first films were this and Menace II Society, have only ever made a handful of films. In what we hope is a more inclusive system nowadays, I wonder if they’d have more of a fair shot at fulfilling their potential if they’d have made these two films in the past couple of years.

It’s also fair to look at it from another perspective, ‘95 was a stellar year for Hollywood films. There are several films considered all time classics that were released that year; Casino, Apollo 13, Clueless, The Usual Suspects, Toy Story and Se7en. That’s not even mentioning the start of the Before Trilogy commencing (ah trilogies!) with Before Sunrise and a couple more over looked gems, Spike Lee’s Clockers and produced New Jersey Drive. And lest we forget the home video classic, for at least one person, the Sandra Bullock starring The Net. It could be said, over time that Dead Presidents has become lost in this mix. That was something I’d accepted, until around a year ago. Mark Kermode, the UK’s chief film critic, and personal hero of mine, had just started a new show on BBC Four, “Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema”. Each show was themed around a particular movie genre and the relevant themes and tropes that went along with it. To complement this, Dr. Kermode would show clips from films that he felt were good examples of this, always in a positive way. So when it came to the episode on heists and I saw a snippet of Dead Presidents, I’m fairly certain I screamed. My girlfriend was out of the room at the time and I shouted to her, “Kermode likes Dead Presidents!”. I’m not sure why I felt so much pride in this, but the knowledge that the critic I respect more than any other, was a fan of the film I’ve been boring people about for years, was incredibly gratifying. Specifically, there’s a jump cut (I think that’s the term) which the good doctor also highlighted. During my frequent bore sessions, I will often cite this moment where our protagonist Anthony is leaping over neighbourhood fences, one after the other, when the edit jumps to Anthony leaping over fallen trees and debris in the jungles of battle in Vietnam. It’s a stunning edit and one I’ve gushed over one too many times. Upon seeing this highlighted during the show I shouted to my girlfriend, by now sat beside me, “I told you!”. Reading this last part back, it does sound a little threatening and also like I’m a bit of twat. It wasn’t threatening, and much as I’m allowed to say I’m not a twat, I’m really not.

I just love trilogies, Sandra Bullock, the jump cut and Dead Presidents. Please let me have a blu-ray copy before they no longer exist. I’ve learnt my lesson.

#deadpresidents #kermodeonfilm

One reply on “A Case for Dead Presidents”

  1. You were allowed to watch this film at 13? as well as selling your toys your mother was clearly irresponsible. Is this a good time to tell you that your collection of football shirts are no longer in the loft?!

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