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Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

Cast: Melvin Van Peebles, Rhetta Hughes, Simon Chuckster, John Amos, Hubert Scales, Mario Van Peebles, The Black Community

Director(s): Melvin Van Peebles

Language: English

Genre: Social Drama

Synopsis

Putting black cinema on the map and ushering in the legendary Blaxploitation genre of the 1970s, Melvin Van Peebles's SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG is a thrilling work of entertainment as well as a historically and ideologically significant essay on the issue of race. The film tells the story of Sweetback (Van Peebles), an apolitical black sex performer who becomes a reluctant picaresque hero when he kills the two white policemen who brutalized a young prisoner for racist reasons. On the run... [Get complete synopsis]

 

motleymitch wrote on October 28, 2006, 11:45 am
Rated
This is a tough film to rate.
Essentially, Van Peebels started the whole 'blaxploitation' movement with this independent film, though he would probably beg to differ on the term 'blaxploitation'. This is not 'Shaft', 'Dolemite', or 'Foxy Brown'.
It's an important flick, bringing race relations to the forefront for the first time in cinema, with the black hero NOT dying in the end, but has to be viewed in the context of the time.
There's a big history behind this film : much of the funding was put up by Bill Cosby, as major studios were too scared to fund it, and the rest was right out of Van Peebles pocket. He did pretty much all of it (acting, direction, music, editing, script), and rightfully earned an X rating due to the many vivid sex scenes (the opening scene involves a woman seducing and havng sex with his son, a 13 year-old Mario Van Peebles, quite graphically). It became the only film the Black Panthers endorsed as mandatory viewing, and it had been on must-see list for years.
Now here's the kicker - despite it's importance in Black (and White) film history, it's just not a very good movie. Certainly the low budget and amateur filmmaking have to be accepted, not to forget this was 1971, but I just didn't find it that enthralling to watch. It's basically the main character fucking and running-from-cops, scene after scene, all the way to Mexico. I know that sounds like good viewing, but believe me, it gets tiresome. The night scenes are murky, due to Van peebels not having the required lighting equipment, so it lacks punch in those areas.
I may be getting too petty with a film with such landmark stature, but I calls 'em as I sees 'em folks! Probably best viewed and discussed in a film studies course than just seeing it on your own (at 4:00 a.m. no less - man, I'm tired!) An 'A' for effort, but a 'C' for final product. So a middle-of-the-road rating it is.

Side note: His son, Mario Van Peebles, made a film called "Baadasssss!" in 2004, about the making of his father's film and the behind the scenes struggles to get the film off the ground. It's suppossed to be excellent (4 stars from most critics, 90% on the tomatometer) and I'd llike to see it to put his father's film in a different context.

What's your rating of this movie?

 

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