This might be the single strangest thing I’ll recommend this month. I found it because, for the longest time, a social life was something I peeked at from behind closed blinds, illuminated by a basement television and soundtracked by endless streams of DVD directors’ commentaries.
On the DVD of 8 Mile there is a special feature that might just be the only special feature that deserves that first word. Most “special features” are a dull and listless parade of self-involved director interviews and international TV and cinematic trailers. Like, on the DVD of the forgettable Hugh Jackman movie Van Helsing there was the “special” feature of a narrated, animated, walking tour of Dracula’s castle. Gee thanks, I’ll pass.
But believe me when I tell you, reader, on the 8 Mile DVD there’s a special feature that makes the film’s unfathomable mediocrity and underutilized Michael Shannon cameo almost worth it. It’s a featurette about the filming of a scene that was ultimately cut from the film. A scene that would’ve been a montage of Eminem’s B-Rabbit character battling a host of emcees.
The reason this special feature is worthy of its own separate DVD is simple: the emcees in the scene are sourced from the film’s extras. The extras in 8 Mile’s iconic Shelter Battles, the ones that crowded together tight as matryoshka dolls in a clown car, in heavy winter coats, in a Detroit warehouse, in April. The director, not being one of the Kubrickian Nazi with an uncompromising vision that didn’t involve empathy for extras, decided “let’s give them a reward for basically cooking themselves in down parkas for eight-hour days.” He decided “let’s announce the battle montage and put up a sign-up sheet and whoever signs up we can put in the scene.”
But he forgot he was in Detroit. He forgot he was filming in the city whose GDP and main export are the side hustle. He expected a handful of names, he got over a hundred. So he called a famous local battle rapper, his casting director, and Eminem together for tryouts. Out of the mass of people, four emerged as the emcees for the montage.
The montage was not going to have audio for the film, just a sequence of rap battles set to music, but the extras-turned-stars took their battles seriously and decided to rip into Eminem. They mocked his whiteness, his poverty, and stated their intentions to murder him, in perfect form. Eminem replied by pantomiming a retort, and that worked…for a while.
Soon the audience grew restless and unsatisfied, they wanted to watch a real battle after so much movie magic. When Eminem began to wordlessly act out the scene, they booed him. They disrupted the shoot. Eminem responded by turning on his mic, and doing what he’s proven to be the best at since Scribble Jam.
Watching an artist “stop playing” might be one of the few treasures left in the world. Michael Jordan at a pickup game, Gary Kasparov at a Central Park chessboard, that one kid in high school the bully forgot was black belt, there’s a moment where time freezes and the vague peppery smell of fresh ass-whoopin creeps into the dense air around them. When I say Eminem does this thing, I mean there are tattered careers on the floor of that Detroit warehouse, you can still see the stains today.
8 Mile is about Eminem, about Detroit, about battle rap, but the most authentic distillations of these ideas can be found in a corner of the DVD next to commentary and a TV spot.
It’s a sight worth seeing, even if you went to Cranbrook (that’s a private school!), even if your name is Clarence, even if your parents have a real good marriage.
Even if all that’s true, this special feature is worth your time.
Buy the DVD or watch it on YouTube right here: