Sunday, March 13, 2005

Baadasssss! review

Directed by Mario Van Peebles, USA, 108 minutes, Rated R

Mario Van Peebles plays his father, the legendary Melvin Van Peebles, the director of Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song. A low budget classic that was an independent trailblazer in its day; it showed the much put upon blacks of urban America fighting back and sticking it to the white man. A dangerous concept in the early Seventies where cinematic racism was high on the Hollywood agenda; no one would touch the film so Peebles risked his family and life to finance, star, write, produce and direct the film itself. This film tells the tale of a film that changed a generation, the culture that made it and the filmmaker who risked all to get it made.

"Entertainment wise, this ones a Mutherfucker!" As Van Peebles desperately tries to sell Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song to potential financers he perfectly sums up his son's mockumentary on the making of his father's classic exploitation film.

The film is funny and enjoyable but isn't afraid to show the darker side of filmmaking; the inherent racism that Van Peebles and many other black actors and directors had to deal with, Melvin Van Peebles descent into megalomania as he fires his desperate staff and forces his thirteen year old son Mario, to perform a sex scene in the films opening. All show a braveness on Mario Van Peebles part to show his father as an enigmatic demon who would stop at nothing to finish his masterpiece.

Baadasssss! recalls P. T. Anderson's Boogie Nights in it's depiction of a seedy side of the Californian dream; full of colourful characters, funky soundtracks and outrageous fashions and will definitely appeal to a wider audience that the film on which it is based. Melvin Van Peebles even went to the pornography industry to find his crew after Union trouble, "If you can make an ass look good, faces are a snap" he figures when he hires his camera man.

Van Peebles uses footage from the original film, interviews with the actors in character and gives the film an authentic feel. His recreation of Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song's major scenes are a joy and show how well the film has been cast, especially the introduction of Earth, Wind and Fire, the unknown group that provided the films funky soundtrack, the hallmark of every great Blaxploitation film.

Baadassss! is an obvious labour of love and a heart felt tribute to his father, one of the unsung hero's of independent cinema. It's fitting that this tribute to Melvin Van Peeble's has been made by his talented son.

Review originally written for Cinephilia after screening at The State Theatre on Saturday 12th June as part of The Sydney International Film Festival. Posted by Hello

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