Directed by Isaac Julien
Produced by Paula Jalfon, Colin MacCabe & Caroline Kaplan
Written by Isaac Julien & Adam Finch
Starring Samuel L. Jackson
Distributed by Independent Film Channel
Release date August 14, 2002
Running time 60 minutes
Baadasssss Cinema is a documentary that discusses the blaxploitation movies of the 1970s, and particularly looks at the post popular films such as Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Shaft, Black Caesar, Superfly and Coffy. People interviewed include Fred Williamson, Mario Van Peebles, Qeuntin Taratino and the lovely Pam Grier, who talk about the impact that the films had on the black community and on popular culture.
Personally I’ve always liked blaxploitation films (those that I have seen anyway). They are very visual, like the film equivalent of a comic book, with their over the top fashion, violence, stereotypes, great music and bad acting. How can you not love a genre of movie that features something as ridiculous as Pam Grier pulling a gun that was hidden in her afro before shooting the bad guys. It is this sort of thing that makes these films so much fun to watch.
BaadAsssss Cinema also briefly goes into detail about the blaxploitation crossovers that happened as well, such as the blaxploitation/horror films like Blacula (Dracula’s black soul brother) and also the blaxploitation/kung fu crossovers. It was very interesting and gave me a hunger to see more of these incredible blaxploitation films.
Directed by Gordon Parks
Produced by Joel Freeman
Written by Ernest Tidyman (novel & screenplay)
John D.F. Black
Starring Richard Roundtree
Music by Isaac Hayes & J. J. Johnson
Cinematography Urs Furrer
Editing by Hugh A. Robertson
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Warner Bros. (DVD)
Release date July 2, 1971 (USA)
Shaft is often hailed as one of the first Blaxploitation films that were made in the 1970s but I am not so sure if it really fits into that category. To me it seems more like a typical cop film set in New York, only with a black man as the hero of the piece. There is also the iconic Theme From Shaft by the late Isaac Hayes, which I guess sets it apart from the rest.
I enjoyed Shaft very much and thought it was very exciting. Compared to the blaxploitation films that followed this one seems very tame, as the sex scenes and violence are toned down, while the swearing is not as over the top as the later films. The plot involves the daughter of a black crime boss being kidnapped by the mafia and Shaft having to rescue her in order to stop the potential bloodshed that a gang war in Harlem would cause. Richard Roundtree is very likable as John Shaft and gives a very laid back performance. Most of the acting is pretty good, especially when compared to later blaxploitation films.
Directed by Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Written by Novella:
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Starring Margaret Sheridan
Robert O. Cornthwaite
James R. Young
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Russell Harlan, ASC
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date April 29, 1951
Running time 87 min.
Watch the skies
The Thing From Another World is often hailed as the first great sci-fi/horror film but I’m not so sure. I guess that it is the film that kicked off the 1950s sci-fi cycle of films and admit that the sci-fi elements of the film have the potential to be great, but I was very disappointed at the horror element of the film.
For those who don’t know the story, a UFO crashes to Earth near the North Pole and is found by scientists and airforce officials. Whilst the spaceship is destroyed thanks to the ineptitude of the airforce personnel, they do find an alien encased in the ice. They take the alien back to their base still in the ice, but his icy tomb is melted and he is alive. Soon it is discovered that he is plant-based and bullets don’t harm him, and that he needs blood to survive and to reproduce.
The reason why I find the horror elements of the film to be disappointing is that despite the potential for tension, no one in the film seems to be scared of the alien. Sure they say that they are frightened, yet the audience cannot see that. Despite knowing that they cannot kill the monster with bullets and that it eats humans, the airforce people decide to confront it armed only with guns, while in another scene with the alien on the loose one of the airforce people jokes with his girlfriend, who also just happened to be posted to the area. Why should I be afraid of their fate if they aren’t?
I suppose that I feel frustrated that the film has so much potential but didn’t capitalise on it in its entirety. Despite this lack of tension the film is still entertaining if talky and I enjoyed watching it a lot.
Directed by Harve Foster (live action)
Wilfred Jackson (animation)
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by Dalton S. Reymond, Morton Grant, Maurice Rapf, Bill Peet, Ralph Wright & George Stallings
Joel Chandler Harris (original stories)
Starring Ruth Warrick
Johnny Lee (voice)
Nick Stewart (voice)
Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof, Paul J. Smith (score), Edward Plumb (orchestration)
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Editing by William M. Morgan
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Release date(s) November 12, 1946 (U.S. release)
Running time 94 minutes
Usually when you think of movies that have been banned the name Walt Disney doesn’t spring to mind. Most Disney films are sweet as saccharine but there is indeed one Disney classic that has been banned for the last two decades and has caused more controversy and differing opinions than any other film that I know of. There are many theories as to why Disney has imposed a ban on this film being released onto DVD and I really don’t understand most of the speculation. Then again I am neither an American or an African-American and am not fully aware of the issues involved and so can only judge the film on its entertainment value and not its cultural or racial undertones. I will say that I don’t understand why a film such as Birth Of A Nation can be freely available to buy on DVD and shown (as of last Saturday on ABC2) on television yet Song Of The South is not, other than the fact that some people automatically associate the Disney brand name with entertainment for children. (Won’t we think of the children!)
Having watched Song Of The South I have to say that I really do wonder what all the fuss is about. I don’t think that it is blatantly racist at all. I know that the argument that African-Americans who don’t like the film use it that the film is set just after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery and that the black people seem to be happy to work for the whites and that their characters are mere stereotypes but then again that’s the way Hollywood does things. It could also be argued, I guess, that Disney’s films are set in an alternate reality where live action humans and cartoon characters interact. Everyone is happy in the Disneyverse despite what is happening in the real world. However the whites and blacks in this film are not equals and there is a clear line of power that is implied here. The black people are clearly subservant to the whites, except in the eyes of the children who treat everyone with respect.
One thing that I think is the real shame of this film not being able to be viewed is that now no one gets to see Jame Baskett’s performance as Uncle Remus. His performance exudes a warmth that is contagious. His role is also important in another way in that this would have been one of (if not the) first times that a black man had the main role in a film not targeted specifically to a black audience.
I think that Song Of The South is a typical Disney live action film in much the same vein as they would make a decade later, focussing on the lives of some kids and the trials that they have to face. The three animated scenes featuring Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear are brilliantly done too. I don’t think that it makes any sense Banning Song Of The South, especially if more blatantly racist films are freely available to be released onto DVD or shown on TV. Then again this is my opinion.