By the dawn of the 1970’s, the major Hollywood studios found themselves facing near-bankruptcy, both financially and creatively. The old system just wasn’t keeping pace with the times: more and more people turned to television rather than the movies, since they no longer seemed to see themselves or their concerns represented on the Silver Screen.
Of course, Black America had never really seen its interests represented in mainstream movies — if the Black experience did show up on screen, it was almost always filtered through the eyes of, say, Gregory Peck or Spencer Tracy. That’s why it came as a shock to Hollywood when they realized the biggest profits of the early 70’s were going to movies made for that vast, under-appreciated Black audience… movies like Ossie Davis’s Cotton Comes to Harlem or Melvin van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s BaadAsssss Song. Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to give Black viewers what they wanted.
The movies that followed made stars of Black actors… brought attention to Black issues… gained a foothold in the industry for talented Black artists of many kinds… and paved the way for the serious Black Cinema that arose a decade later. But the producers, directors and/or writers of these movies were still — more often than not — white guys. This fact, plus the movies’ emphasis on violence, sex, drugs and crime, prompted civil rights leaders to coin a new word to condemn the Soul Cinema of the 70’s: BLAXPLOITATION! A term that’s been extended to almost all the Black-themed movies of the era.
Some of these Blaxploitation movies were genuinely respectful of Black American culture. Others at least had their hearts (and fists, and other body parts) in the right place. And some, in spite of their Black casts, were pure jive-ass honky bulls#!%. Yet taken all together, in their strengths and weaknesses, they represent some of the most vivid and memorable movies ever made. So join the B-Masters through the month of Mayfor BAD, BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL, as they celebrate Blaxploitation movies from every part of the bell curve.
|1000 Misspent Hours And Counting||Sweet Jesus, Preacherman||I can’t explain Sweet Jesus, Preacherman. I can describe it; I can synopsize it; I can analyze and critique it. But explain? Account for how or why so thoroughly unprofessional a movie could be made on MGM’s, of all companies, dime? No. That I cannot do. Had Sweet Jesus, Preacherman been produced under the aegis of some outfit like Crown International or Independent International, it would be just an unexceptional half-assed blaxploitation flick, but coming from the majorest of all major studios, this film is weird.|
|Willie Dynamite||When the title character made his entrance looking like a giant, ambulatory strawberry Zinger, decked out in a hot pink suit, hat, and overcoat sprinkled with strips of white fur, I figured I had this movie’s number. But by the start of the second act, it was becoming increasingly apparent that Willie Dynamite fell closer to Superfly‘s end of the spectrum than Avenging Disco Godfather‘s. Despite outward appearances to the contrary, it develops into a fairly serious examination of life in the black criminal underworld of 1970’s New York. And also like Superfly, Willie Dynamite is unusually generous with its sympathies, having enough to go round for pimps, prostitutes, social workers, law-enforcement personnel, and all the people caught in the crossfire of a city descending into outlawry.|
|Teleport City||Deadly Art Of Survival||It was while prowling around the lower portion of Manhattan than no-wave filmmaker Charlie Ahearn was approached by a group of young black kids curious about what he was doing with a movie camera. The idea that just some dude could borrow a camera and decide to make a movie without the apparatus or blessing of mainstream movie making was wild, and the kids thought it was awesome. They also thought he should make a movie about them and the kungfu school they attended, called Deadly Art of Survival.|
|The Unknown Movies Page||Death Journey||I didn’t dislike the movie – I actually had a lot of fun watching it. Yes, the movie is full of flaws like those, but I actually found these flaws to be amusing. The movie is so ambitious, yet has such limited resources as well as basic smarts at times, that you have to admire its spirit, for going on even when the flaws make the movie come across as completely ridiculous. Taking a bus from Palm Springs to Kansas City and reaching the destination in the same day? Hilarious. Amazingly bad choreographed karate fights? A gas. Williamson wearing a completely unbuttoned shirt for most of the movie in order to show off his torso? Well, it’s stuff like that that makes unintentionally hilarious movies so fun to watch.|
|And You Call Yourself A Scientist!||Sugar Hill||Otherwise— Well, this is an AIP production, after all. But while the low budget shows at every turn, and the supporting cast is weak, the film is carried by the one-two punch of lovely Marki Bey as the eponymous Sugar, who sports a startling array of flared pant-suits and an afro to die for, and Don Pedro Colley, who – in the immediate wake of Geoffrey Holder’s interpretation in Live And Let Die – gives us a marvellous Baron Samedi. Robert Quarry as a drawling Southern mob boss and the ubiquitous, and ubiquitously appalling, 70s fashions are just the icing on the cake.|
|Braineater||Dr Black, Mr Hyde||But that’s really the least of the movie’s problems. Consider: we’ve got a respected Black man who’s becoming a slave to the Needle (and I use the term “slave” fully aware of its implications). We’ve got a Black man, striving to succeed in a white man’s field, who becomes a violent criminal… only after he turns white. We’ve got an amazingly rich source of social commentary, or satire, or any kind of commentary on the Black experience in America. And the movie doesn’t take advantage of any of it.|