Saturday, September 11, 2010

Capsule Review: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)

Often credited with birthing the blaxploitation genre, Melvin Van Peebles' controversial film showed that a black audience would come out in droves for films appealing to their interests, though - outside of the race of the lead - Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song hardly resembles the more populist fare that would follow. Peebles plays Sweetback nearly silent, working as a featured player in a live sex show until being pushed to participate in a police line-up. When the officers arrest and beat on a young black activist, Sweetback brutally attacks them, sending him on a series of encounters as he finds himself on the run. Often confusingly edited, though with a kinetic energy echoed in the soundtrack by Earth, Wind & Fire (who sing the film's tagline: "You Bled My Mother, You Bled My Father, But You Won't Bleed Me"), the series of vignettes that follow are often amusing (after being pitted against an amazonian female biker, and asked to choose a weapon, Sweetback thinks for a moment before responding: "Fuckin'". Whether Peebles' aim for the film was art, protest or commerce is up for debate, but it remains an important mark in exploitation film (though, oddly, it's not really an exploitation film itself), and contains a particularly jarring and memorable ending. The making of the film was dramatized in the 2003 film BAADASSSSS!, starring Melvin's son Mario in the lead.

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