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I agree to disagree. Sorry. Another viewpoint.

FILM VIEW; Sweet Sweetback's World Revisited

The New York Times Archives

GORE, PROFANITY AND SEX ARE splattered over the screen so routinely today that no movie from the 1970's could possibly match the contemporary Hollywood action film in visceral nastiness, right? Before agreeing, check out Melvin Van Peebles's 1971 film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," which will play at Film Forum from July 14 through July 16. This sulphurous nightmare of racial paranoia and revenge eclipses even "Reservoir Dogs" in evoking a world of infinite seaminess, injustice and cruelty.

"Sweet Sweetback," which was shot in 19 days on a budget of $500,000 and ended up grossing $10 million, jump-started the 1970's "blaxploitation" genre that Film Forum is currently surveying in its series, "Blaxploitation, Baby!" Among the 33 films on the program, which runs through Aug. 10, are "Superfly," "Shaft," "Coffy" and "Cleopatra Jones." It was in those films, many of them the work of white producers, directors and screenwriters, that the black actors Ron O'Neal, Richard Roundtree, Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson emerged as gun-toting action-movie heroes.

Mr. Van Peebles's film was not only the granddaddy of them all but also the most innovative and politically inflammatory. The title character, named for his precocious sexual prowess, is played by a poker-faced Mr. Van Peebles, who also wrote, directed, edited and scored the film. On the run after killing two white policemen, whom he watched beating up a young black revolutionary, Sweetback spends most of the film eluding a small army of pursuers as he flees Los Angeles for the Mexican border.

In the course of the manhunt, the fiendish white posse beats up black people at random and shoots both ears off one of Sweetback's friends during an interrogation. The movie ends with a warning to "watch out," because Sweetback is coming back "to collect some dues." (There was no sequel, however.)

Although "Sweet Sweetback" has a charging momentum, it is a collage of incendiary images of black misery and white oppression. The editing has a jazzy, improvisational quality, and the screen is often streaked with jarring psychedelic effects that illustrate Sweetback's alienation. The nearly continuous soundtrack is a sour be-bop-funk hybrid punctuated by a gospel-funk chorus whose assertions of faith sound scorchingly ironic in context. Together, the music and visuals create an atmosphere so woozily paranoid that the movie often feels like a bad acid trip.

" 'Sweetback,' " writes Donald Bogle, a film historian (and co-programmer of the Film Forum series), in his book "Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films," "was an open declaration of war on white America." (Mr. Van Peebles's screenplay for the new film "Panther," a sympathetic history of the Black Panther Party, reprises many of the same themes.) If "Sweet Sweetback" is unforgettable, it is also deeply flawed. The acting is mediocre at best. And in depicting women as grotesque, flailing sex machines serviced by the indifferent stud hero, it matches today's gangsta rap in arrogant misogyny.

More tempered expressions of the political anger that boils through "Sweet Sweetback" run through the entire blaxploitation genre. In the screenplays of both "Shaft" and "Superfly," black characters express their shared belief that drug-dealing, prostitution and criminality are the only territory "the man" has allowed them. In film after film, white policemen are the enemy. If the films sometimes show sympathetic white policemen, they are usually balanced by a corrupt white officer who is a walking nightmare.

Beginning with "Sweet Sweetback," music was a crucial ingredient of many blaxploitation movies. With its itchy guitars and growling speech-song, Isaac Hayes's "Theme From 'Shaft' " became the hippest song ever to win an Academy Award. For "Superfly," the story of a cocaine dealer who hopes to retire from the drug business after making a last million-dollar deal, Curtis Mayfield composed a suite of songs about urban street life that runs through the film like a Greek chorus and is crucial to its texture.

WHERE THE STYLE OF "SWEET Sweetback" might be called apocalyptic urban surrealist, "Shaft" and "Superfly" settled for a more conventional urban realism that could also be found in television shows like "Kojak." But especially in blaxploitation films where the hero is a woman, the politics are leavened by an antic (and often bawdy) sense of humor. In "Coffy," for instance, Ms. Grier, the queen of the genre's superwomen, plays a freelance vigilante who systematically mows down those responsible for the drug addiction of her younger sister. The movie is a feminist cartoon with a lewd sense of fun. The title character's surefire method of gaining the trust of a man she is about to kill is to bare her breasts and reach lustfully into his trousers.

And in "Cleopatra Jones," Ms. Dobson plays an invincible undercover narcotics agent who swaggers fearlessly through the slums clad in thousands of dollars worth of furs and jewels. (The outfits change every five minutes.) Her arch-enemy is a mob boss known simply as Mommy who goes in for black leather and red fright wigs and is played by a bellowing Shelley Winters. The two eventually face down each other in a car-crushing depot. Guess who gets squashed? In movies like "Cleopatra Jones," the politics of race have become so cartoonish that all that's left is the exploitation.

The right title should have been "Run, Nigga, Run", misspelling a Himes novel (re)title. That's what the movie is about: the protagonist running away from cops. The story is thin, the (running) lenght overlong, the protagonist unimpressive (he could have been impressive(as CJ pictorially remarked) had the movie been shot hard core), the dialogue and action unimaginative as can be. What can be saved? The sex scenes, especially the one with the director's son (impossible to shoot these days, I presume). This should have been a soft core movie with more nudity and sex, leaving aside the racial theme, making the protagonist a real mf, not caring about black or white skin. But that is something blaxploitation movies rarely did (maybe only in Superfly), always striving, in the end, to be PC.  The ost is negligible, good only in a run sequence, listing the dues of the various limbs, but of course miles away from the excellence of Hayes and Mayfield. So it was significant that this crap didn't find a local distributor here. I could have given it a 5/10 but it was a real drag watching the last hour. 4/10

When I first saw it back in the 70's it didn't impress me all that much either, like you. It seemed a bit amateurish and roughed edged.

Now 40 years later and after seeing over 300 Film Noir I can appreciate all the last images of the old Los Angeles locations that just aren't there  anymore. I really appreciate that its like a time capsule to the late 60's early seventies.

Van Peebles also impresses he almost single-handedly like A Fistful Of Dollars is kickstarted a whole genre. The run sequences are like extended music videos timed to the music, like Morrircone. I also prefer that raw Earth Wind and Fire to the more polished Hayes or Mayfield.

I dug it. lol. To each his own.

Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Rate The Last Movie You Saw
« on: Yesterday at 04:19:43 AM »
The Long Riders (1980) One of the last of the "Golden Age" Westerns, when then still knew how to make them look, feel, and sound right, lol. Story about the James-Younger gang with the brothers played by real life brothers the Keach's, Quaid's and Carradines. Of course the story is truncated, features mostly the highlights, with some  as the French dub it "le ballets des morts" slomo homage to Sam Peckinpah. A re-watch 7-8/10. 

Decoy (1946) could very well be the first SiFi Noir. Jean Gillie, a gangsters moll, cooks up a plan to bring her gas chamber candidate boyfriend back from the dead with Methylene Blue so he can retrieve the stash of $400,000 in loot from a robbery. Gillie is a piece of work. A re-watch 7/10

Film Locations / Re: Checco er Carettiere
« on: September 21, 2018, 11:45:51 AM »

Other Films / Re: The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard, 2018)
« on: September 21, 2018, 03:00:57 AM »
So, I saw it yesterday and it is very good. Once again, Audiard digs into flawed masculinity. The only "true" western since The Unforgiven. Exactly like its score, the film features just the right amount of good old western stuff showed in a "uniquely modern and stylized yet not in your face" way as well as very nice ideas you wonder why they were never showed in a western movie (John C. Reilly face to face with the first toothbrush he's ever seen, for instance). Although they obviously didn't get the biggest budget ever, the film feels incredibly grounded, gritty, dirty, realistic and has lots of interesting locations (most of it still takes place in smoky saloons and woods). The few minutes they spend in the muddy, crowded, Gangs Of New York-like version of San Francisco make me wish to see a western movie set only there.

One of my first thought when leaving the theater was that I wasn't sure of the rewatch value yet since the story, while fun and touching, is a tad too anecdotal for my taste... but I'd happily go see again it today.

Thanks I'll have to check it out.


+)The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

The Badge (2002)

Sin City (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

+)Cidade Baixa (Lower City) (2005)

The Notorius Betty Page (2005)

+)The Black Dahlia (2006)

+)36 Quai des Orfèvres (2006)

+)Journey to the End of the Night (2006)

+)Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

+)No Country For Old Men (2007)

+)The Lookout (2007)

Honeydripper (2007)

+)Across The Hall (2009)

+)Dark Country (2009)

+)The Missing Person (2009)

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

+)Hotel Noir (2012)

+)The Iceman (2012)

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

Cop Car (2015)

+)Too Late (2015)

+)The American Side (2016)

Hell or High Water (2016)

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Frank & Lola (2016)


Dressed to Kill (1980)

+)Union City (1980)

+)Body Heat (1981)

Thief (1981)

Blade Runner (1982)

+)Hammett (1982)

Vice Squad (1982)

Tchao Pantin (So Long, Stooge) (1983)

+)Blood Simple (1984)

+)Paris, Texas (1984)

+)Tightrope (1984)

+)To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

After Hours (1985)

+)Blue Velvet (1986)

Eight Million Ways To Die (1986)

+)Angel Heart (1987)

+)Siesta (1987)

+)Slam Dance (1987)

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1988)

+)Kill Me Again (1989)


Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
« on: September 20, 2018, 04:18:33 PM »


Burbank Theater on Main Street L.A.

Second Street Tunnel

Biker (John Amos)

L.A. River

Melvin has something for the ladies

L.A. River

L.A. Gasholders

L.A. River

Mojave Desert

The film stars Melvin Van Peebles as Sweetback, Hubert Scales as Mu-Mu, Simon Chuckster as Beetle, Rhetta Hughes as Old Girl Friend, John Dullaghan as Police Commissioner, West Gale, Niva Rochelle, Nick Ferrari, Ed Rue, John Amos as Biker, Lavelle Roby, Ted Hayden, Mario Van Peebles as Leroy (Young Sweetback) The Black Community, and a Smoggy City Of Angels circa 1969-70.

“the first truly revolutionary Black film.” Huey P. Newton

"a radical blaxploitation classic" Brad Stevens

"This is about as street as it gets well heavy and very bad." taweakame         

An interesting time capsule of fin de decade 1960s. Check out Simon Chuckster's hilarious monologue. A must watch with your noir tinted glasses or noir-dar on. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is assuredly not PC, it's of it's time.  9/10

Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
« on: September 20, 2018, 04:17:57 PM »


Storefront Preacher: What are you doing here Sweetback? You're as hot as littler sisters twat.

When Sweetback finds out that the cops already know about the addict farm he runs upstairs Sweetback again hits the streets.

Storefront Preacher: I'm gonna say a Black Ave Maria for you.....

Sweetback hit's up a gambler hoodie for some bread. He stands with Sweetback over his poker game.
He has a great monologue.

Gambler: What's a dead man like you need bread for? Life's a real struggle, from the womb to the tomb.... Every dollar we make the Guineas get twenty, The po--lice get fourty. and the Goldberg's get fifty anybody can tell you that doan add up to a dollar, that doan add up to a dollar and a damn! That's why all us niggers are so far behind.

Gambler:You can't get outa this town by wing, wheel, or steal.

The Gambler at least gets Sweetback and Mu-Mu out to the Los Angeles city limits.

The rest of the film consists of visually interesting chase sequences towards the Mexican borders set to music through various parts of Los Angeles, that you can still identify from the 40s and 50s Noirs. These are interspersed with police interrogations of the "black community," and short vignettes of Sweetback's various encounters with assorted hoodies and others, an ex girlfriend, a storefront preacher and his flock, Mu-Mu, a gang of Hell's Angels, a hippy, and a peace, love, dove, commune.

Another sequence shows a motel where the cops get a tip about Sweetback shacking up with a white girl on on of the rooms. The cops break open the door and beat up the black man.

It's not him

Cop One: It's not him
Cop Two: So what?

These, if they had filmed in a pedestrian manner would otherwise be mere filler. Van Peebles gives us a funkadelia panoply of slightly 60s psychedelic, Spaghetti Western rotoscope, Dutch angles, and the ever changing backdrop locations make them compelling to Noir aficionados providing a wonderful film montage of a downtown L.A. that is long gone accompanied by Earth wind and Fire. You'll groove/tune to it.

Gambler: Life's a real struggle, from the womb to the tomb....

Sweetback's Theme [link][/link]


Off-Topic Discussion / Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
« on: September 20, 2018, 04:16:09 PM »

Wow! One of the first Black Neo Noir, a Soul Noir Masterpiece.

"This film is dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who've had enough of the man"

Directed by Melvin Van Peebles a black man exploiting being black, with a story set in the black community. It's been called the first Blaxploitation Film preceding Shaft by a few weeks. Though often lumped in with Blaxploitation Films both Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song are actually very good Neo Noirs in and of themselves, they just happen to have predominately black casts, and are just onerously included, in my opinion, solely for that superficial reason.

True Blaxploitaion Films to me, are more tongue in cheek in a way tending to, for me anyway, almost burlesque the black community. Sweetback, Across 110th Street, and Shaft are more serious fare. There may be others I'm not aware of. I'm not familiar with all of them (there are over 350 films) but I've heard good things about Superfly (1972), I'll definitely check it out.

Van Peebles not only directed, scripted, and edited the film, but also wrote the excellent composite R&B, soul, funk, and jazz, score performed by Earth, Wind, and Fire, this is juxtaposed at times by a sort of Gospel funk Greek chorus.

The film, was funded somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 + (I've read different stories) which in the end grossed $10 million. A Hit.

I saw this once on a big screen in of all places Missoula, Montana over 40 years ago, in the early 70s and never seen it again until a few days ago.

Van Peebles and his Yeah Productions, crafted a roughed edged work of art. Its a gift for Neo Noir lovers, a healthy visual helping of a lot of the old Classic Film Noir locations in The City Of Angels before most of them disappeared for ever. It was also shot at arguably the most creative, exploitative and exploratory decade in American Film History.

Young Leroy aka Sweetback (Mario Van Peebles)


Its the simple tale of Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles), who as a young black "orphan" named Leroy (Mario Van Peebles) ran away from his South Central L.A. neighborhood flop. He was taken in starving at a whorehouse and raised there by the ladies of the evening. Leroy earned his three hots and a cot as a towel boy, supplying the ladies with all their needs between customers. A few years later one of the girls takes a fancy to him and invites him in for a poke. He doesn't know what to do.

towel boy

Hooker: You ain’t at the photographer’s. You ain’t gettin’ your picture taken. Move!

At first Leroy is a bit shy but soon gets busy with it. The whole whole sequence starts against the electrical hums of a clothes washer and ending in her multiple "oh God!, Oh God!" hallelujahs climaxing to a Gospel choir. He's so good at "endurance screwing" that his first woman christens him "Sweet Sweetback."

"oh God!"

About say 10-12 years later. grown, Sweetback is now working as a live sex performer at the small shows the whorehouse puts on to inspire the customers to go "upstairs." This whole sequence is homage or reminiscent of the fight spectators in Robert Wise's The Set-Up (1949), and also of Delbert Mann's crap game participants in Mister Buddwing (1966). Another occurs during a poker game.

The Show

One night a couple of white LAPD detectives come by to ask a favor of Beetle. Beetle is the pimp who runs the house. A black man has been killed and the black community is putting pressure on the LAPD to do something. The detectives ask Beetle to let them arrest Sweetback to show that they are doing something, and they will then let him go in a few days for lack of evidence. This will appease their superiors. Beetle agrees and tells Sweetback the deal.

On the way to the station the detectives get a radio call to a disturbance. There they take into custody a young Black Panther named Mu-Mu (Hubert Scales). When Mu-Mu insults the detectives they stop the patrol car take his ass out of the car and viciously whoop on him. Sickened by the disrespecting of a brother, Sweetback attacks the detectives, Using his handcuffs like brass knuckles he beats them unconscious. He then gathers up Mu-Mu to his feet and splits.

Sweetback (Melvin Van Peebles)

Sweetback doubles back to the whorehouse where he asks Beetle for help. Beetle is scared himself of being arrested.

Beetle (Simon Chuckster)

Beetle: Like you gonna have to kinda lay out, stretch out a little while, be real cool. Kinda lay dead. Ol' Beetle'll let you know what's happenin', what's goin' down. You don't have to worry about nothin'. If you need anything, anything at all, brother, just keep the faith in Beetle, ol' Beetle goin' to bring you through, cause this is just a skirmish. You know how the game goes, baby. But you keep the faith in me and you my man. You my favorite man. Can you dig it, baby? Together, you know, maintain....


Sweetback heads out the door and down the stairs. As Sweetback leaves the whorehouse he is arrested by the cops waiting outside who figured he may head back there. Two cops in a patrol car haul him away to a deserted lot.

Sweetback is knocked around a bit, then taken back to the squad car.  He is about to be driven downtown when a Molotov cocktail hits the police car just as it starts to pull away. Sweetback escapes out a door into L.A. He hits up a black preacher.


Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Touch Of Evil (1958)
« on: September 20, 2018, 11:24:56 AM »

Tail fins and Mojave Desert

Tail Fins 1957 Plymouth Plaza

Tail Fins ,1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer


Tail Fins 1956 De Soto Fireflite Convertible

The very first Traveling Shot?

'Uncle' Joe Grandi: You just said it yourself. Somebody's reputation has got to be ruined. Why shouldn't it be Vargas'.

Josuha Trees = Mojave Desert

Mercedes McCambridge rt."I wanna watch."

Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tanya: You haven't got any.
Quinlan: Hmm? What do you mean?
Tanya: Your future's all used up.

Pete Menzies:  You're a killer.
Hank Quinlan: Partly. I'm a cop.
Pete Menzies: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Drunk and crazy as you must have been when you strangled him. I guess you were somehow thinking of your wife, the way she was strangled.
Hank Quinlan:  I'm always thinking of her, drunk or sober. What else is there to think about, except my job, my dirty job?
Pete Menzies: You didn't have to make it dirty.
Hank Quinlan:  I don't call it dirty. Look at the record, our record, partner. Huh?
Pete Menzies:  Sure, sure, sure.
Hank Quinlan:  Well? All those convictions.

Pete Menzies:  All these years you've been playing me for a sucker. Faking evidence.
Hank Quinlan: Aiding justice, partner.

You got her undressed?

'Uncle' Joe Grandi: You got her undressed?
Girl Gang Member #1: Yeah. We have scattered our reefer stubs around.
'Uncle' Joe Grandi:  You kids didn't use none of that stuff yourself, huh?
Girl Gang Member #2: You think we're crazy?
'Uncle' Joe Grandi:  Nobody in the Grandi Family gets hooked. Understand? That's the rule.
Girl Gang Member #1:We blew the smoke at her clothes, that's all.
Girl Gang Member #2: Like you said, we put on a good show to scare her.
'Uncle' Joe Grandi:  Let's hope it was good enough.

Low Angle

"He was some kind of a man"

One of the best, if not the greatest, of the Tail Fin Noirs.

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