Regretting 'the Closet'
The man born Robert Kelly probably has a lot to regret—a failed marriage with a then-15-year-old Aaliyah (RIP), the doomed Best of Both Worlds tour with friend-turned-foe Jay-Z, and that whole piss-up with the videotape... but one day, I suspect his biggest regret will be Trapped In the Closet, his insane 12-part R&B opera, now available on DVD.
Trapped is a curious pop-culture blip—the audio from the first five "chapters" of this musical melodrama premiered on his TP3 Reloaded album and became a runaway radio hit. Encouraged by the response to his bizarre creation, Kelly upped the ante and set up his trusty camera (once again) to turn Trapped in the Closet into a long-form video. (The "Pied Piper of R&B" promises at least 20 more.) Yes, your boy Kelly not only stars in this sordid, scattered tale of infidelity, closeted clergy, nosy neighbors, and asthmatic midgets—he also provides the narration, sometimes to confusing effect. You might get a leetle sick of that cheesy, tinny beat that never, ever changes (except for an overdramatic crescendo as each chapter nears its end), but the R's talk-singing is truly amazing.
Our natty protagonist, Sylvester (Kelly), awakens in a strange woman's bed after a night of club creepin'—and quickly finds that what goes around comes around, and around, and around. A BET-movie version of the Kevin Bacon Game ensues, with Sylvester struggling to make sense of the proceedings; luckily, he's got his Beretta at the ready for any unforeseen Mexican standoffs. Dial M For Murder, it's not. Shit, it's not even Mindhunters.
Director Jim Swaffield (who's made DVDs for Wyclef Jean and Britney Spears) brings Kelly's overwrought vision to life with style, if not subtlety—yet I'm not convinced Swaffield isn't subtly playing Kells himself. It almost feels like the director wants the world to better understand Kelly's pathos by giving his remarkable hubris free rein.
Nothing makes this plainer than the "Kells Commentary Remix," simply one of the best commentary features I've ever seen on a DVD. As opposed to the usual audio commentary, we are treated to a private viewing with the Arrah: The film's star sits in a comfy theater chair in the corner as the movie plays on his screen. Kelly conspiratorially turns back to us to comment on the happenings—though confusingly, you can see another camera directly in front of him that the director cuts to every now and then, even when Kelly is already facing the first camera. When the beleaguered crooner turns back to us—just for a second—with that wait'll-you-see-what-happens-next smirk on his face, it's strangely intimate, yet wholly unnerving. Watching him watch you watch him watching himself—this has to break some kind of wall.
According to a dapper Kelly, "I came to realize when I started writing this whole piece—there's many a closets... It's like a global closet thing—y'know, everything is pretty much in the closet." Yeah, I was just thinking that. "That's what makes Trapped in the Closet, Trapped in the Closet," continues R, "because you never know what's gonna happen. It's all about cliffhangers, it's all about what you think is gonna happen—that's not, that's not what's gonna happen, it's gonna be something totally different—check it out."