Sunday, October 28, 2012

538. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Melvin Van Peebles
Written By: Melvin Van Peebles
Main Cast: Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles, John Amos, John Dullaghan, Hubert Scales
Click here to view the trailer


In 1971, the same year Shaft was claiming to be a bad mother--shut 'yo mouth, there was another African American "baadasssss" taking over the movie theaters and his name was Sweetback!

Melvin Van Peebles stars as Sweetback, a man who was introduced to the love of a woman at a young age and who now entertains at a whorehouse, performing sex shows nightly. After a murder, the police arrive and ask Beetle, Sweetback's boss, if they can arrest one of his men, release him a few days later for lack of evidence so that they can appease the black community. Beetle hands over Sweetback and off he goes in the back of a police cruiser. On the way to the station, the cops arrest a young black man, Mu-Mu (Scales) and take him to an abandoned area to work him over. After witnessing the cops beat the life out of Mu-Mu for long enough, Sweetback steps in and saves the kid, beating the officers unconscious. The rest of the film is Sweetback's various attempts to evade police capture, seeking help from powerful friends in the black community, seeking refuge in the arms of women and trying to stay alive. At one point, Sweetback wanders into a desert area and without water or food, is forced to bite the head off a lizard for sustenance and use his own urine to sterilize a wound.

After reading up on the making of "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" it's hard to write it off as a cheaply made piece if 1970s independent cinema. Honestly, while it's not THAT good and more resembles a softcore pornography than a serious attempt at a film, the basic plot is a decent and simple one and works for the fairly short running time. After Van Peebles finished his previous film "Watermelon Man", he scrimped the money together, as well as receiving a $5000 loan from Bill Cosby and vowed to make a film for "all the brothers and sisters who'd had enough of The Man". According to THE BOOK, he pretended to be making a porno flick, so that he could hire non-union workers, to work for cheap. With no money for a stunt man, Van Peebles did all of his own stunts and even took part in unsimulated sex scenes that appear in the final cut of the movie. Apparently, the story goes that Van Peebles contracted gonorrhea during one of the sex scenes and successfully applied to the Director's Guild in order to get worker's compensation, citing that he'd been hurt on the job. He was awarded some money and ultimately used it to by more film instead. It's also said that a scene in which two dogs are killed by Sweetback and found floating in the river, were provided by a the local animal shelter. Apparently Van Peebles showed up one day with $20 bucks and a need for two dead dogs and he was provided with them.

Perhaps the scene where Melvin caught gonorrhea and a famous scene where Sweetback is basically told "fuck or die!"
All of this because a man had a vision of a film and didn't give up until his vision was realized. Whether you like the film or not, find it inappropriate or not, you really can't deny the inspiration behind the whole project. It's not really a great film, but it certainly isn't bad and of course, you have to factor in the budget, which wasn't substantial. I know, I know I ripped on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" for having an obviously low budget, but I didn't hold the standards to this one as high as I did that one. You always hear about TCSM and you never hear anything about "Sweetback". It's sort of a lost film and even I had to find it on YouTube, as it isn't available anywhere else. Go into this one expecting nothing and you might just find a little spark of genius, a decent plot, an inspirational story and an innovative film...but beware, it kind of borders on the edge of being a softcore pornography.

RATING: 6/10  Well, my goal while I was on vacation was to watch ten films and this makes the tenth movie I've seen in the last six days, so huzzah for me!


October 28, 2012  7:29pm

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