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Fri August 13, 2004
It is one of the best ever to show the making of a movie.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Rated X by an All-White Jury" may have been one of the most memorable and profound ad lines in film history.
You'd have to have lived in the '70's to understand the exhilaration of Blaxploitation films, which liberated African-Americans to depict themselves as powerful, successful, and dangerous. While the "Shaft" and "Superfly" detective films became the best-known emblems of the genre, Melvin Van Peebles' "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" started it all and beat "Love Story" in earnings that year. That ad line didn't hurt, nor did another one, "You Bled My Momma. You Bled My Poppa. But You Won't Bleed Me."(Nor did his previous success at Columbia with "Watermelon Man.")
The artistic merit of "Song" is arguable (Roger Ebert calls it "low-rent"), but the success of son Mario's recent film about making "Song," called "Baadasssss!" is certain. (It was originally called "How to get the Man's Foot Outta your Ass" to give you an idea of how son follows father as bad boy).
Mario plays his father struggling to make "Song," from selling his beloved motorcycle (an obvious homage to another '70's rogue spirit, "Easy Rider") to begging $50,000 from Bill Cosby. Along the way, the driven Melvin has his 12-year son acting in a scene where a boy loses his virginity, a plot involves a male hustler from Watts killing bad cops and escaping punishment, and Black Panthers play a critical role in gaining viewers for "Song." Not to forget Melvin pretending to make a porn film to avoid paying union wages or beating up an editor who wants to leave. Melvin advised his son in creating this film, "Don't make me too damn nice." He didn't. It's tough out there.
This is a film for the fledgling filmmaker, who needs to see how difficult making a film is and how many sacrifices, social and financial, are made to bring a project to the screen. It is one of the best ever to show the making of a movie. As a producer says in the film, "Good things do not come to those who wait." Neither Melvin nor his son waited.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.