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Filmcritic.com Attends the “8 Mile” DVD Release Party… And Lives To Tell About It

In celebration of the DVD release of the 2002 box-office smash 8 Mile, the folks at Universal threw a promotional event in Detroit-Eminem’s hometown. In the invitation, Universal called the event the 8 Mile DVD Launch Party Hosted by Eminem…although that heading was slightly misleading.

These promotional events usually take place at luxurious hotels or exclusive nightclubs, and that’s exactly what I was looking for as I drove through D-Town looking for Saint Andrews Hall, the location of the party. Then I ran into a detour. The police had blocked off a section of the road and surrounded a rundown brick building. This wasn’t the best part of town, so I thought that perhaps the police had secured a crime location. As I circled the detour, however, I realized that this building was actually Saint Andrews Hall.

Initially, I wanted to flee the neighborhood fast, but I eventually decided to enter the party. You’d think they were expecting the President of the United States. After walking through a metal detector, security then frisked me and searched through my travel bag for prohibited items. Ironically, they seized the disposable camera and tape recorder I kept inside, but ignored the mace attached to my key chain (I wouldn’t leave my car in Detroit without it), despite signs that proclaimed no weapons of any kind would be allowed.

Leading up to the 8 Mile DVD Launch Party, radio stations around the nation held freestyle rap contests. The winners were flown to Detroit to face-off in a rap contest at Saint Andrews Hall. An escort (no kidding!) led me to the basement where I could watch the rappers compete, but I was preoccupied with the stagnant air, cigarette smoke, and dirty bathroom stalls that no longer had doors attached. Then I noticed cockroaches-not one, but two-crawling on the damp cement floor.

If nothing else, with several stages and excellent acoustics, Saint Andrews Hall is well suited for the rap scene. Aspiring rappers compete here often, or so I heard. In fact, rumors claimed that Eminem himself used to freestyle here, which makes sense since the hall isn’t far from 8 Mile Road where he grew up. Several other notable artists performed for the VIP guests as well, including D12, Xzibit, and even actor Mekhi Phifer made an appearance. All the while, I kept looking for Eminem, who, according the invitation, was hosting the party.

Many of the party’s guests were involved in 8 Mile. I talked with one who was in the audience during the rap battles. This guest turned out to be the winner of the national rap contest: Marv Won from The World Famous Fat Killahz. As the winner, he will have the opportunity to record his own demo tape at a renowned location in Hollywood, courtesy of Universal. If he does become a successful rapper, he has big plans. ‘I wanna move my mother into a big house and live happily,’ he said.

Mekhi Phifer was one of the veteran rappers who commented on the battle. He enjoyed some of the performances at the event, but doesn’t think they matched the ones in the movie. ‘A few people impressed me,’ he said, ‘but I think a lot of people got nervous. Eminem crushes everybody. He gives a verbal assault.’

The head of marketing at Universal later explained why he thinks 8 Mile was such a hit. ‘People gravitated to this movie not to hear the music, but to hear his story: a true struggle against all odds to stardom. Our marketing effort has not been about the music; it has been about his story. When you look at the film, you learn more about him, the artist.’

Two hours into the party, supposedly ‘hosted’ by Eminem, the star took the stage and delivered a powerhouse performance of ‘Lose Yourself.’ He even threw himself into the audience at one point, although I don’t think the guests were expecting the stunt. It looked as if Eminem nearly hit the ground. After the song, he shared a few brief words with the crowd, and then was quickly whisked away by security. And so concluded the 8 Mile DVD Launch Party Hosted by Eminem… or rather, hosted by Eminem for five minutes.

The 8 Mile DVD, which will be released March 18, contains a featurette of the making of the movie, and never-before-seen footage available in both censored and uncensored versions-although if you prefer censored, you probably shouldn’t be watching 8 Mile to begin with. Included in the footage are four rap battles that feature spontaneous performances between Eminem and audience extras from the film, and the music video for ‘Superman,’ from the best-selling album The Eminem Show.

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