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jeen-yuhs: a review of Kanye’s trilogy

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  • Sundance Film Festival 2022 review jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy will be available to stream on Netflix in three parts, with the first coming February 16.

It’s a compelling premise for a documentary: two decades in the life of one of the world’s most famous, influential and controversial musicians, told through intimate and rarely seen footage. But what’s advertised as an intimate, personal evening with Kanye West turns out to be a double gig with the film’s director. Coodie, who co-directed jeen-yuhs with Chike Ozah and filmed nearly all of his footage, is the one constant in this odyssey through Kanye’s life. He is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

Over the course of three “acts” of jeen-yuhs, we follow Kanye (who is now legally named Ye, but referred to as Kanye throughout the film) from the time Coodie first meets him to the near present. Sensing the future greatness of the young Chicagoan, then an up-and-coming producer who captured the buzz to produce a Jay-Z track in 2001, Coodie ditched his own ambitions to pursue comedy in order to record what he and Kanye see as the latter’s inevitable rise to stardom, amassing footage to ultimately be turned into a documentary. Coodie narrates the films, basing the events on his personal recollections and providing a personal point of view that avoids any pretense of objectivity.

Acts one and two include footage from 2001 to 2005, in which Kanye worked his way to a record deal with his dream label Roc-A-Fella Records, then had to fight just as hard to become a respected member of the Roc team. The best moments of jeen-yuhs, which provide the thrill of being-there that Beatles fans received last year with Get Back, are in these first two acts, where we find Kanye in the studio train to write future classics. Kanye’s enthusiasm is contagious in those early years as he monologues eloquently and confidently about how he will revolutionize rap.

The footage is notable for showing Kanye in a private space that’s a world away from the equally intimate — but also very public — outbursts he’s now best known for. We make frequent trips to Kanye’s mother’s apartment, Donda, where she offers him advice and encouragement; these moments show how significant his influence on Kanye was and contextualize how devastating his untimely death in 2007 would be for him. Another key scene – perhaps with more running time and emphasis than is really needed – is Kanye at the dentist, having the wires removed from his jawbones. (Kanye was in a life-threatening car accident in 2002, broke his jaw in three places, and wrote the song Through the Wire about the ordeal while recovering. The song’s video, co-directed by Coodie – which uses some of the images we see here – would become essential early in Kanye’s career.)

Act two crescendos on the night Kanye’s debut album The College Dropout made him a three-time Grammy winner, revisiting the iconic closing line from his “Best Rap Album” speech: “Everybody wanted know what I’d do if I didn’t win. Guess we’ll never know. A more confident filmmaker, further away from the material, may have closed the book with this mic moment, a star being born But having a personal relationship with Kanye, Coodie stayed and continued filming; the rest of his footage forms the film’s much weaker third act.

Inevitably, things start to change between the two, epitomized by a Grammy afterparty where Kanye repeatedly calls Coodie by the wrong name. Soon, access to Kanye’s inner circle becomes increasingly sporadic. When Coodie is not there, there are no images, and the third act is structured around these absences. The years 2007 to 2013 are skipped in less time than a visit to the dentist; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, heralded by many as one of the greatest rap albums of all time, skims over with a single mention. We see the production of Kids See Ghosts but not Ye (both recorded in 2018), not because Coodie deemed the former more important during editing, but because it was a recording session he was able to to access. Similarly, much of Kanye’s personal life, including his marriage to Kim Kardashian and his hospitalization due to mental health issues, can only be covered by familiar news clips and voiceovers.

The biggest gaps in the film’s timeline are filled in by moments from Coodie’s own life, including the birth of her daughter Ivy and the death of her father. These serve as a reminder that, for Coodie, this is as much about his own life story as it is Kanye’s. jeen-yuhs may be Kanye’s life, but it’s Coodie’s life’s work.

Originally posted: January 28, 2022