VR film “Marshall From Detroit” gives Sundance attendees a closer look at the city responsible for one of hip hop’s greatest acts.
For over the past twenty-three years, Marshall Mathers (a.k.a Eminem) has changed hip-hop in an explosive way. Growing up, Marshall dreamed of rapping his way out of Detroit, MI, but, years and fortunes later, he still hasn’t left. Marshall’s rise to success has given Detroit a different voice and reputation in the process. The VR experience Marshall From Detroit mirrors the struggles of both Eminem and Motor City, speaking to the heart of what he calls home.
The 21-minute experience is directed by Caleb Slain (The Lost & Found Shop, Demon) and produced by Felix & Paul Studios (MIYUBI, Traveling While Black, Isle of Dogs VR). It premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival as part of the New Frontier program and provides an intimate look into the city that shaped Eminem as you traverse Detroit over a cold December night alongside the Grammy Award-winning artist.
The experience starts off with a view from atop a moving car as you hear Eminem’s long-time friend and SiriusXM/Shade45 radio host Sway Calloway ask the first few questions in a detailed interview with the prolific rapper. With a transition inside of the car, you find yourself face-to-face with Eminem, sitting directly across from him as Sway conducts the interview to your left.
For someone who has successfully managed to stay out of the spotlight throughout a long career, the VR experience is a refreshing change of pace, allowing you to witness an intimate side of Eminem that many haven’t ever seen before. In many ways it feels as if you are in the car with him; the look in his eyes when asked a question by Sway indicating the raw, inner workings of his mind. He talks about the complexities of full sentence syllable rhyming, and how he is constantly thinking a few steps ahead. The intricacies of his music become most evident through this eye-opening in-person interview.
“Our idea was to extend the blanket of intimacy offered by VR beyond the once-in-a-lifetime ride with Marshall and introduce you to a more mystic version of Detroit you could never see for yourself,” director Caleb Slain told Variety. “We wanted to take the ‘reality’ out of VR and cook it down into something more unreal, but also truthful.”
Eminem is widely known for his often controversial and provocative lyrics, however; a true believer in the freedom of speech and the expressive art that is his music. “That’s why we have parental advisory on music. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” he advices.
The entire VR experience takes place over a wintery night, so you’re exposed to the cold, rigid landscape of the city. The interview inside the car cuts back and forth between different vignettes of the city, placing you everywhere from a snow-covered street, to a fire escape on the side of a building. There’s even a portion where you’ll stand at the center of a massive performance hall on an abandoned stage. In one moment, you’re placed between two men standing opposite from one other, battling each other through verse. The pace of the interview allows for multiple breathtaking moments that truly capture the raw emotion of the legendary city. The cinematography also helps to isolate these poetic vignettes with creative camera placement to capture the feeling that is Detroit.
“Detroit is a land of historic paradoxes. A cornerstone of commerce, a post-industrial nightmare,” states Caleb Slain. ” A bastion of music, a cautionary tale. And yet to many it remains a symbol of strength, ferocity and reincarnation. Traces of these paradoxes can be found in Detroit’s high priest, Eminem — perhaps the most infamous rags to riches story in the modern world.”
Throughout the entirety of the piece, you only hear Marshall rap once, during a flashback to the first recorded rap battle he had in Detroit in 1996. During this scene, you hear the distorted recording while inside a now-abandoned building in which the battle presumably took place 23 years ago. Marshall says that he’s been all around the world, and has achieved a lot throughout his career, but Detroit will always be home for him. The main theme of the experience is comparing all of the hard times he had growing up with an up-to-date version of what the city is like today.
Throughout the interview, Eminem talks about how he keeps chasing the Marshall Mathers LP (MMLP) — one of his first majorly successful albums — to try to get back to that specific voice and the degree of passion he had in the 1990’s. He says fans like the “old Marshall” better and believes a lot of the rage and anger he channeled during older albums like the MMLP. He was writing his lyrics and content based on the struggles he faced growing up as a kid in a less-than-ideal home environment. He states that the reason he doesn’t sound the same now is because he doesn’t have that same rage, he’s no longer that same angry guy… but he still has that passion, and refuses to let it go. That passion for writing thought-provoking bars that challenge the conventions and norms of modern day music and putting them together into an emotional composition is still what drives him.
“…we sought to explore the city impressionistically: Detroit as a memory, a feeling, a dream. With a front row seat down memory lane, this lyrical experience offers an unprecedented glimpse into its eponymous titans. We all have a home. And the extent to which it made us who we are is one of the great mysteries of our lives. As any native would tell you, Detroit, Michigan is one hell of a place to call home” –Caleb Slain
Eminem has used immersive technology last year, creating accompanying visuals for an AR app during his 2018 Coachella performance. A public release date for Marshall From Detroit has not been set yet, however, the immersive experience will most likely be available on major VR headsets in the coming months.