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BAADASSSSS, 2003
Movie Reviews!

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BAADASSSSS, 2003
Movie Reviews

Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Starring: Mario Van Peebles, Joy Bryant, T.K. Carter, Terry Crews, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier, Nia Long
Review by Thomas Marchese



SYNOPSIS:

Mario Van Peebles's half documentary/half homage to his father Melvin's 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

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REVIEW:

There are those films where the drama that was going on behind the scenes during production is so colourful and entertaining, that it’s a story for a film unto itself. Some such stories were made into films, which include White Hunter, Black Heart, Clint Eastwood’s portrait of the making of The African Queen and Hearts of Darkness, a fascinating documentary on the tumultuous production of Apocalypse Now. Mario Van Peebles’ Baadasssss! is a wonderful addition to this genre. The film chronicles his father Melvin’s trials and tribulations as he wrote, produced, directed, edited, financed and starred in the film that broke new ground in how African-Americans were portrayed in film and sparked off the Blaxploitation genre of the 70s, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971).

Now, while SSBS was revolutionary for what it accomplished, it’s not a very good film. The story of "a street brother who turns revolutionary" after murdering two policemen to save the life of a young African-American radical, like Easy Rider, falls into the category of the overrated classic that was good and revolutionary at the time it was released, but in reality is a terrible movie that has not stood the test of time. While Sweetback does contain some really slick camera work and use of montage, and a really funky music score by Earth, Wind & Fire, it is absolutely excruciating and interminable to watch. Horrible acting, poor sound and Melvin Van Peebles’ ego and overwhelming desire to shock and offend makes the atrocious cult film Rainbow Bridge, featuring Jimi Hendrix, look appealing by comparison.

However, the circumstances surrounding the production of SSBS are much more interesting and entertaining. These are portrayed in a very stylish, colourful and insightful manner in Baadasssss!, Melvin’s son Mario’s best film and vastly superior to Sweetback. Mario plays his papa as we see him going outside the studio system to make his film by self-financing it after attempting to secure funding from various sources (including a drug dealer) and using multicultural non union actors and crew, including a porn producer and director of photography. Melvin also had to contend with infighting within the cast and crew and his crew being arrested, as police thought it was suspicious that a group of African-Americans and Latinos would be in possession of expensive film equipment. If that weren’t enough, the production began to have a negative impact on his health as he temporarily lost sight in one eye and collapsed due to exhaustion. In the end, Melvin Van Peebles triumphs as the Black Panthers and the African-American community embrace Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and help make it the highest grossing independent film up to that point.

The DVD contains a wealth of extras including a very entertaining commentary track by Melvin and Mario Van Peebles, The Birth of Black Cinema a documentary on the phenomenon that SSBS created when it was released and the making of Baadasssss!, a featurette on the premiere and American Cinematheque Q&A with Melvin Van Peebles.

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