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Sweet Sweetback's Badassss Song

Melvin Van Peebles

Sweet Sweetback's Badassss Song
This groundbreaking movie launched the blaxploitation movement in American cinema. But just five minutes in you'll realise that every other blaxploitation movie was tame compared to this freewheeling psych-out. Although director Melvin Van Peebles maintains that this was a chance for black America to tell its own story, the plot itself is at the far fringes of what any movie could depict in 1970, hence the tag-line "rated X by an all-white jury." Sweetback is a young, mostly silent street urchin taken in by residents of a bordello and raised to become a gender-bending sex show performer/bouncer. Upon witnessing the beating of a young radical, he kills two cops and starts to run to the Mexican border. But Sweetback is no Shaft, he is the silent observer of a freaky milieu, a true anti-hero that hardly ever speaks and is pushed into doing what appears to be "the right thing" only when his back is against the wall. Along the way he uses any means at his disposal to get out of bad situations. The plot itself is secondary to the whirlwind of repetitive images, jump cut sonics, screechy Greek choruses and the sense of desperation throughout. The music, by the first incarnation of Earth Wind and Fire, is just as important as the dialogue or photography. One important aspect never emphasised is that Sweetback is closer to French new wave than the blaxploitation that followed. Even the "making of" featurette finds Van Peebles in Paris, although he doesn't acknowledge Godard's influence. The difference is Van Peebles isn't French and his filmmaking is absolutely unrestrained. It remains a hard film to come to terms with — there's more going on than a story of a put-upon hero running from the law, or an Afro-American knockoff of French filmic techniques. Not many American films look or feel like this, and it's still shocking and angry after all these years. Extras: "making of" featurette. (Xenon, www.xenonpictures.com)
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