R. Kelly is a surrealist, and he probably doesn’t even know it. About halfway through his magnum opus Trapped In The Closet, the twelve-part “R&B soap opera” crosses over from curious experiment to absurdist art. Officer James has just returned home. To say he’s had a rough morning is an understatement: He tussled with his mistress’s husband, accidentally shot her brother and nearly got attacked by an old woman with a spatula. After all that, he’s glad to get back to the normalcy of his own house and marriage. But something doesn’t feel right. His wife is acting strange. There’s a cherry pie sitting on the kitchen table, and a piece is missing. She couldn’t have eaten it — she’s allergic to cherries. Someone must’ve been there when he was out. Maybe they’re still in the house. The closet is empty. Where would somebody hide if not in a closet? Wait, his wife seems to be guarding the cabinet. So he goes to the cabinet … now he’s opening the cabinet … what the hell’s in the cabinet? That’s right — an asthmatic midget stripper! And he’s got pie crumbs on his face! Werner Herzog would be proud.
It’s moments like that throughout Trapped that prove Kelly may be an accidental genius. Oh, he definitely thinks he’s brilliant on purpose; he says as much on the behind-the-scenes featurette that accompanies the DVD of the saga so far. But Trapped hasn’t captivated the nation for the reasons he believes it has. No one really cares about the characters (try naming three of them) or the labyrinthine story, which is so ridiculously convoluted its obvious Kelly has no idea where it’s supposed to be going. And certainly, the whole thing is worthless as a piece of music, with its schmaltzy orchestration and melodramatic crescendos repeated ad nauseam.
However, the series remains a topic of conversation for everyone who follows pop culture because it provides a glimpse at a creative mind slowly losing its grip on reality. Like Syd Barrett records or Howard Hughes films, Trapped is a direct link to the madness of its creator. If Kelly seemed crazy after that whole videotaped underage sexcapade debacle, get a load of him waving a Beretta around, threatening to pop a cap in both Pastor Rufus and his gay lover Chuck. Of course, nutcases — unencumbered by the limits of self-editing and good taste — always make the best entertainment. A midget declaring “I think I just shit myself” — sung in Kelly’s velvet voice with utmost seriousness — as a gun is shoved in his face is the kind of scene a sane man may question putting in a mini-movie. Not Kelly, thank God.
Nor the crew that helped him put the video together, who may be even crazier than Kelly himself. The funniest part on the DVD is hearing the various collaborators praise it as “revolutionary” with nary a shred of irony. Even stranger is the woman who plays the policeman’s wife literally crying over being granted the honor of taking part in this cinematic masterpiece. Who can blame her? Anyone would leap at the chance to actually live inside R. Kelly’s demented fantasies. As for the rest of us, simply watching Trapped In The Closet will have to suffice.