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Monday Movies was Rated X by an All-White Jury

Hey, Weblog. I didn’t see any movies this week. I did have the good fortune to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform in Los Angeles. Of all the lively arts, I have the weakest relationship to concert dance — if I fix myself to pay attention, I can revel in the at-times-astonishing beauty of individual moments, but it mostly washes over me, leaving me with the sense that I’m somehow ruined or just a philistine.

Alvin Ailey’s signature piece is called Revelations. It’s a three-part survey of African American music and liberation.  It was first performed at a YWHA (that’s Young Women’s Hebrew Association, less beloved of the Village People) in Manhattan in 1960. To have been there!

Watching it, distracted by my native failings and monkey mind, I found myself thinking of that other supreme song of African-American liberation, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. There’s some debate about whether or not it’s properly a blaxploitation movie; I think it can safely be called the ur-blaxploitation movie. It’s definitely got no shortage of titillation. My favorite example is of how Sweetback, played by the director, Mario Van Peebles, triumphs over a white biker gang. They challenge him to a contest, and he gets to choose the contest. He chooses “fucking.” The top-banana woman in the gang lies down, and determines after a little Coke vs Pepsi action that Sweetback is the winner.

There’s an amazing, nearly five-minute-long sequence toward the end of the movie where Sweetback is running through the desert, trying to escape to Mexico, wounded and alone.  While the chorus alternates snippets of spirituals (including “Wade in the Water”, which ties us back to Revelations), a voice shouts at Sweetback over the singing to keep going, alternating between helpful encouragement and anger-stoking reminders of racist injustice. The chorus and the voice segue into sound collage as the band comes back in — Earth, Wind and Fire did the funky, noisy soundtrack, though I don’t know how much of this is them  — and the whole thing becomes a prophetic cacophony. Sweetback runs, Gabriel’s trumpet the wind at his back.

It’s been fifteen years since I saw it. Now it’s back on the queue; hope it holds up. This, of course, is all by way of wishing you a chag sameach at the arrival of the Passover holiday. Let all those who are hungry, enter and eat; and all who are in distress, come and celebrate the Passover. Did anybody see the documentary Baadassss!? Or anything else?


April 18, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies


  1. 4/12/11 – Tsuma – Naruse
    4/13/11 – Killing in Yoshiwara – Uchida
    4/14/11 – The Bird People in China – Miike
    4/14/11 – The Lady of Musashino – Mizoguchi
    4/15/11 – Twilight Samurai – Yamada
    4/17/11 – Eros Plus Massacre – Yoshida 204 minute version

    Comment by bob mcmanus | April 18, 2011

  2. We watched Night on Earth, as part of a planned “light completism” project on Jim Jarmusch. It had its moments.

    We also picked up the brochure for the Gene Siskel Film Center’s May offerings, having realized that we hadn’t been there in over a year. Apparently they’re doing a Charlie Chaplin event.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | April 18, 2011

  3. i watched _Pocket money_, _La Cage aux Folles_,
    seems i’m running out of the French comedies on Netflix
    but today Mad Men-IV first DVD should arrive

    Comment by read | April 18, 2011

  4. The series of classic movies at the Valentine Theater in Toledo showed Dr. Zhivago and Easter Parade this weekend. Dr. Zhivago started at 7:30 and is almost 3.5 hours long, so we ditched it to go see Hanna.

    Easter Parade did not sound like our cup of tea, so we ditched that one as well to prepare for my brother coming to town. As a result of all this wasting of cheap movie tickets, our movie viewing was limited.

    I did enjoy Hanna – there were questions about everybody’s part in the movie, but it was a very simple forward-moving story, I thought – but the mix of fatigue and a belly full of beer and heavy food tends to make me anxious while movie-watching. So I drove my wife crazy with my antsiness and constant shifting, and perhaps need to see it again.

    I also Netflixed 8MM, with Nick Cage one night. I know the common line in crime shows and movies is that there is no such thing as a snuff film, but does that seem almost impossible to anybody else but me. I mean, I kind of just assume that just about anything you can think of has not only been done but probably has a website and magazine devoted to it. I know I’m stepping on the toes of a Patton Oswalt routine here, but it is kind of my assumption at this point.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | April 18, 2011

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