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Fresh (1994)

April 16, 2014

freshposterIn the past few months, I’ve been in the throes of working on a long-standing goal, which is to write a post about how HBO’s “The Wire” changed my life. Though I’ve been directly affected by systematic social injustices based on race and economics most of my life, “The Wire” showed me how that system continues to stay in place through a perpetual cycle of inbred mindsets and failed institutions. Creator David Simon’s extensive tale of law and order in Baltimore, Maryland presents faces, stories, and histories of a slew of characters that include drug dealers, drug users, police, detectives, and politicians.  Having finished the entire series after a three month HBO Go binge a couple of months ago, it’s been hard to revamp my time to commit it to the article. That is, until Fresh reminded me of those injustices. Fresh is an emotional train ride in the life of an adolescent forced to survive in the game of life when all the odds are against him.

Michael, better known in the streets as Fresh, is a young drug dealer handling the responsibility and weight of a grown man. Fresh is the ideal drug pusher. He’s young, therefore unsuspecting, he keeps his nose clean, is smart with his money management, and can spot bullshit being thrown at him a mile away. When Fresh isn’t on the streets mingling with the gangbangers and kingpins, he attends school where he jokes and cuts up with his group of friends and right-hand man Chuckie. Fresh also breaks from his trap life for periods at a time to visit with his brutally honest, slightly absent father Sam (Samuel L. Jackson) for games of chess in the park. Fresh gets schooled on the rules of the game and life through a chess board and finds its strategy useful when his drug addict sister makes her way back into town to the delight of Fresh’s heroin pushing boss.

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Fresh is an cinematic marvel that shines by weaving Boaz Yakin’s psychedelic direction as well as the cast’s, most notably Sean Nelson’s, stellar performances. At times Fresh is reminiscent of Melvin Van Peebles’s Blaxploitation breakout film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. In Peeble’s daring classic, one man’s fight for personal freedom is visualized through the use of fades and double exposed images that blend together to prompt an emotional alliance with the main character. Fresh opens to shots of bare city streets in which objects slowly fade into existence before the setting of a neighborhood can properly be discerned. We become immediately introduced to a defragmented and unpredictable world, one that is Fresh’s tragic reality.

Chess is a major figurative center piece of the film. It’s where Fresh reaffirms the brilliance in himself that drug dealers and fellow players sense when in his presence. It’s where he reconnects with his father to get called out on himself and get tested in the game. But mostly chess is the catalyst for understanding the hardships in Fresh’s life. Sam constantly reminds Fresh how life is as much of a game as chess is and strategy is the basis of how you win or lose.  Audiences learn this first hand as a multitude of unfortunate situations loom over Michael’s head introducing him to death, loneliness, and betrayal.

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Yakin’s daring tragedy shows viewers that it’s not so easy to judge Michael, and other minorities who fall into the same cycles of drug dealing and crime, for their deeds when the big picture of their situations gets revealed. As with Fresh, some just aren’t presented realistic, alternative options to the situations they are raised in. Motherless with a drunk father who limits his responsibility for his son to quick chess games in the park, Fresh, though extremely bright, has no positive influences to steer him otherwise.  He does the best that he can with what he knows. Fresh ends on a somber note, one that I personally feel is the most powerfully poignant ending of a film I’ve ever seen. It’s a stark reminder of how brutal life can be and how for some, no matter how young they are, those brutalities are hard to escape and ignore.

SEE IT. And have your heart break in more places than imaginable.

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