For anyone that hasn’t stayed abreast on R Kelly‘s magnum opus or, like myself, stayed up until 3:30am last night to watch all consecutive 22 different chapters straight through, the R&B superstar’s 91-minute Trapped in the Closet “hip-hopera” can be somewhat of a confounding beast. For those of us that actually have followed this wondrous theatrical fiasco closely, on the other hand, this project has the potential to become even more bewildering. Kelly himself has stated that the story unfolds to him organically, as if in a “daydream,” implying that he is no more than a conduit channeling cliched, often cartoonishly bigoted, stereotypes and campy soap opera-esque storylines from the outer reaches of the cosmos. Even as the mastermind behind the work, he has repeatedly referred to Trapped in the Closet as an “alien.” At a recent premiere/preview screening of the latest installments, which took place on Monday at New York’s Landmark Sunshine Cinemas, Kelly used the term yet again, while adding that he’s just “happy to be one of the astronauts.“
It’s been 5 years since his last installment of the series, which included episodes 13-22. The audio for the first 5 chapters was originally released as separate tracks on the artist’s 2005 album TP.3 Reloaded (Jive records), which, in and of itself, was the conclusion to a trilogy of non-consecutive album releases, beginning with his 1993 solo debut, 12 Play, and continued by his 4th official solo effort, TP-2.com in 2000. The music videos released to accompany the tracks from Trapped in the Closet depicted them literally, as the lyrics themselves are clearly formatted to operate as a narration to the piece. Based on the description for the bonus dvd edition of TP.3 Reloaded on Amazon, it is implied that 5 may have initially been the intended limit for the now seemingly limitless tale.
“As a special bonus, this package includes a Limited Edition DVD that tells the whole unadulterated tale of “Trapped In The Closet (Chapters 1 of 5).” It will be the only place to see the grand finale of this exciting saga.”
After the initial success, including the undeniably eccentric one man show/lip-syncing live performance by Kelly at the 2005 MTV VMAs, a 12 episode DVD was released that included the first 5 accompanied by 7 new ones. From there it took 2 more years before anything new was released from the saga and, when it was, it came in the form of 10 new installments, bringing the total to 22 chapters in all. That was 2007 and, while much of the storyline was left in cliffhanger status and R. Kelly has claimed that there was still a lot more life left in the project, this week will be the first time that anything substantial is really being presented to the public in regards to TITC in 5 years.
Based on images and information posted by various media sources who were in attendance at the recent preview screening, Kelly arrived in a black dress shirt (unbuttoned 1/3 of the way down), a matching suit jacket, sunglasses, a big gold watch, and Thriller-red leather gloves. He was excited to finally share his latest additions to the Trapped in the Closet saga; as he previously stated that he was searching for funding to continue at the time when releases for the ambitious project essentially halted, back in 2007. Tomorrow (Friday, November 23rd) at 9/8c time, IFC will begin airing this new material, starting with #23, but, apparently, 20 new episodes have been already been filmed in total. A while back, I had read that Kels had already written somewhere around 32 more chapters that he’s been waiting to unleash. At the screening, however, he updated that number by stating that he actually still has 85 more of them worked out, beyond those in the can, that are still yet to be recorded. In fact, Kelly mentioned that there is even talk of a version hitting Broadway some time in the future. He was also quoted as saying, “I don’t have a job, so I just sit in the studio and think of stupid stuff to do.“ And, a few weeks back, he even claimed to Entertainment Weekly that he’ll “never stop writing these chapters.”
Back in October, he had reinforced that promised, while referencing tomorrow’s IFC debut of the new footage, during a conversation with Time Magazine…
R. Kelly: “We just shot 20 chapters. They’ll be coming out the day after Thanksgiving. Trapped in the Closet is forever. I’ve got like a hundred chapters to come.
R. Kelly: It’s forever.”
Last week, Erika Ramirez of The Juice, posted a video interview where he explains further:
“It’s crazy because I didn’t think I could write any more chapters, but when I got into the studio and started [to] put that track up *hums the tune*… when I start hearing that track, the weirdest thing happened. I started hearing characters. I started hearing verses. The story started to come to me. And I just sing what’s in my head. And I start to see these images of these people in my head. And it’s the weirdest thing in the world.“
For those of you who still don’t know, when he uses the term “that track” it’s because the entire 22 segments up until this point–as well as the chapter 23 preview video (posted towards the bottom)–feature what is, essentially, the exact same melody repeated endlessly. Using that repetitious mellow instrumental groove as a foundation, R Kelly, more or less, sing-talks the entire storyline, with absolutely no discernible chorus and little to no concern for if the majority of the lines even rhyme. As time goes on and more and more chapters are released, however, Kelly has demonstrated an intention to arbitrarily adjust or altogether abandon elements of the formula that he’s consistently established and relied on previously. It’s clear that he cares deeply about the project, but he does so while not really giving a fuck about restricting himself from taking it into the most absurd of territories. Sometimes, that may even involve contradictory storylines and/or never acknowledging or following up on specific plot points that were overtly being constructed. Of course, that’s all just part of its charm.
Plot-wise, this shit is all over the place. The main character, Sylvester (played by Kelly), sleeps around with a married woman (Cathy) and has to hide in a closet before her husband (Rufus) walks in. Then it turns out that Rufus, who is a church pastor, is also cheating, but with another man named Chuck. Sylvester calls his own wife (Gwendolyn) at home and a man answers the phone. From there it continues and continues and continues. Not only is everyone cheating on/with each other, but they all seem to catch the adulterers red-handed with their lovers still in their homes–sometimes they’re hiding in closets. People get pregnant. People engage in homosexual acts. People get Berettas pulled on them. Everyone seems to be smoking (cigarettes, cigars). Everything is delivered in the first person from Sylvester, at first. Later on, a narrator begins to take over intermittently, who is also played by Kelly and, other than subtleties in each of their respective designer suits and the fact that the narrator chills in the back like Rod Serling from the Twilight Zone, he looks exactly like Sylvester, as well. As the golden voice randomly shifts from 1st to 3rd person perspective–not to mention from present to past tense–all kinds of chaos, stereotypes, and cliches are thrown into the mix. There’s a male asthmatic “midget” stripper with a big dick that passes out and and defecates in his own pants from fear, after he’s been lifted up and sat down on a kitchen table (“Big Man”). He’s found hiding in a cupboard, because he’s fucking a backwoods, Squidbilly junkyard-mama-style overweight white trash chick (Bridget) that’s married to the cop who’s sleeping with Sylvester‘s wife (James). Meanwhile, if anything becomes even remotely uncomfortable, Sylvester tries to regulate the situation by whipping out his gun and waving it around. In fact, almost everyone seems to have a piece in this storyline, with barefoot nightgown wearing Bridget equipped with a double-barrel shotgun, of course. Oh yeah… and, since Chuck is gay, he’s wielding a switchblade and threatening to cut a “bitch,” as he’s removing his earring. Later, an Italian mobster named Joey is using terms like “Fuggedaboutit!,” while he literally eats a giant mound of spaghetti off a plate in front of him, surrounded by hired thugs in the basement of a nightclub that he runs.
Kelly sings in his own voice, for the most part, except for when he’s doing a few select characters. The first time that this is demonstrated is with the strained Southern accent that he uses for the only white character, Bridget. [Later they briefly show another white woman as an extra who answer a phone and Kelly uses the exact same voice for her.] Other characters that the singing narration is adjusted for are the crotchety old Sanford and Son looking motherfucker named Randolph; the stuttering, Pimp Lucius; and the holy spirit-infused, Reverend Mosely. Those 3 characters were all introduced in the second installment of 10 videos from 2007 and they are all played by R Kelly, as he takes his place in the lineage of other black celebrities performing multiple characters in makeup–Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Tyler Perry, etc. During this 2nd wave of chapters, we also catch Kelly tweaking the monotonous background music slightly; first giving it a more upbeat gospel feel for a church sequence and later taking somewhat of a Peter and the Wolf angle by dropping in some heavy funk accents, as somewhat of a theme, when Pimp Lucius is introduced on camera. Even the delivery is occasionally toyed with: at one point, there’s a quick flashback sequence and then there’s even another moment where the lyrics are delivered like the bracketed descriptors in a screenplay. The new liberties that Kels continues to take with the approach that he’s already established may affect the rhythm in some places, but it does make the prospect of whatever is planned next feel more promising. This upcoming material is reported to involve a blaxploitation-like modification to the trademark audio during a chase sequence, a blind hooker, and Kelly playing at least 2 more characters (a marriage counselor and a mob boss).
If you want to catch up on all the calamity that is R. Kelly‘s Trapped in the Closet up to this point, make sure to watch the Independent Film Channel and/or visit IFC.com; they are streaming every singe episode up to 22 right now. Also make sure to catch the new installments beginning tomorrow Friday, November 23rd on IFC at 9/8c or watch and chat live online. The station is incredibly excited to continue airing the episodes and premiering the new material. They even offer the following advice.
“..if you’re a stickler for storyline, don’t worry, when the show returns to IFC, R. Kelly will have plenty of opportunities to untangle the narrative — or complicate it even more.”
Who knows what crazy twists and turns will occur or what questions will be answered (or ignored) next? Why does Sylvester remind Twan that he’s on house arrest, at one point, while he continues to have him driving him all over the fucking town? How do people continue to know what someone else is saying on the other end of phone calls that they aren’t on or what’s happening in kitchens in houses that they weren’t even in? Will Jesus’ love continue to assist in the process of turning folks heterosexual (they’ve actually referred to god overcoming homosexuality)? Will there be any more surprise cameos? [Will Oldham and Greg Hollimon appear as cops in Ch 15.] Is the “big package” that Chuck apparently has related to his hospitalization and is it actually a slang reference to HIV as it seems to imply, or have we all just sat with these characters and stereotypes so long that we’re now making our own loaded assumptions at this point? I guess we’ll just have to watch to find out.
Here, view this preview, featuring R Kelly sifting through an encyclopedia with photographs stuck to the pages by a glue stick.
To further promote their upcoming premier during the holiday season and to try and help people keep the storyline in check, IFC has provided PDF downloads of Trapped in the Closet placemats, which feature either images of some key characters or of a chart breaking down how each of them are connected to each other.
‘Trapped in the Closet’ Singalong Tour
Started by a group called Action Pack at the infamous Austin, TX theater, The Alamo Drafthouse, the ‘Trapped in the Closet’ Singalong events take the R. Kelly cult hit and give it the Rocky Horror treatment, complete with props and subtitles to allow you to follow along. The whole night even kicks off with a full on dance party! Now they’re taking the show on the road, so check it out and see if it’s coming to your town.
CONFIRMED THEATERS & DATES
Atlanta – Plaza Theater : Nov 30
Austin – Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz : Nov 22
Austin – Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek : Dec 1
Houston – Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park : Nov 29
Kansas City – Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet Cinema : Nov 20
Los Angeles – Graumann’s Chinese Theater : Nov 30 & Dec 1
San Antonio – Alamo Drafthouse Park North : Nov 28
San Antonio – Alamo Drafthouse Stone Oak : Nov 20
Seattle – SIFF Cinema : Nov 30 & Dec 1
Tucson – The Loft Cinema : Nov 30
Winchester – Alamo Drafthouse : Nov 29