Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Reid, 8. January 2008, 23:05

Dir. Melvin Van Peebles
97 minutes

From 1001 movies book. I can’t imagine any of you really enjoying this film, but many of you would find some of it interesting. It’s not likely that you’ve seen another film like it, but that’s not necessarily a reason to see it. I didn’t really enjoy watching the film and, even objectively, I’d have to say it was around a 3. But the spirit and inviduality of the film bumps it up to a six.

Melvin Van Peebles is the father of Mario Van Peebles, and as he explains in an interview, the film came about as a result of his frustration with “the Man;” he wanted to find a way to get the “Man out of his ass,” and this film was his answer–despite not having any money or knowing little to nothing about making a film. You gotta love that (and, indeed, it probably added at least a point to my rating).

The film is about a black sex performer who beats up some cops after witnessing them beat up another black man. The cops are after him and he’s running away. About a third of the film is comprised of various footage of the main character running–not necessarily being chased by anyone specifically; just scenes of him running. If that sounds boring, it is. There are other sequences that are pornographic, which brings me back to the part about the film being a way to get back at the “Man.” Besides the several scenes where the lead character is beating up white cops, I’m not entirely sure how the film gets back at the “Man.” Maybe it’s because I’m not black.

The filmmaking is raw, definitely B-quality, which is generally a bad thing, at least for me. The good thing is that the film exhibits a sense of originality and freedom. For example, there’s a scene of a man sitting on the toliet; it’s a frontal shot; we hear “noises” and see him wipe himself. Not a bad thing, not really crucial to the film (not really graphic, btw), but it was refreshing, as it were. But where the originality can be seen in the way the film goes beyond any category–it’s a porn and social commentary film–and that probably doesn’t capture everything about it.

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