“Fade to Black,” a documentary about rapper
Jay-Z’s “final” concert at Madison Square Garden,
is grounded in the simple premise that every good thing eventually
comes to an end.

Jay-Z has, of course, continued touring a year after the release
of The Black Album and shows no signs of legitimately retiring.
While the prototypical example of the farewell genre, Martin
Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz,” actually documents
the swan song of The Band, “Fade to Black” does an
excellent job revealing an artist at the peak of his fame and
creative capacity while portraying the excitement at the heart of
this amazing concert.

In the opening of the film, Jay-Z is narrating while the
audience is bombarded with images of New York City. Then Madison
Square Garden, the venue for the evening’s entertainment, is
illuminated. Amid the blinking lights and signs reading “Sold
Out,” Jay-Z describes his last concert as “a long kiss
goodbye” to his fans. The feeling of being up close and
personal with Jay-Z is created by the great deal of engaging shots
used by directors Patrick Paulson and Michael John Warren. The
intensity of the sold-out crowd only enhances the visual
stimulation. The behind the stage interviews of hip-hop stars P.
Diddy, Common, Q-Tip, Ghostface Killah and Slick Rick all provide
commentary on Jay-Z’s importance to the evolution of hip-hop.
On stage he is also joined by his girlfriend Beyonce, Missy Elliot,
Foxy Brown, Mary J. Blige and Pharell to perform a collection of
his hits. Occasionally, the film verges off toward exaggerated
hagiography, in an attempt to build up the legend of Jay-Z, but for
the most part “Fade to Black” makes up for this
shortcoming by keeping its focus on the music.

The film interweaves the concert and the process of making of
Jay-Z’s The Black Album from inspiration to
conception. The audience is transported into the studio where Jay-Z
creates The Black Album with a host of big-time producers,
including Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Jus Blaze, Pharell and Kanye West.
“Fade to Black” is at its finest when it shows the
master at work, laying a track down perfectly in just one take.
Through the use of cinematography, the indescribable and
electrifying experience is recreated for the viewer. It provides an
exciting accoutrement to the images of Jay-Z rocking a diverse
crowd of people all captivated by the music. This is why legends
never die — they just fade to black.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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