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Angry film about a black man who kills a white cop and is on the run
from the cops for the entire film. Along the way he kills other people
(all white) and has numerous sexual encounters.
I saw this years ago at a revival theatre. I had heard it was an excellent, graphic and powerful film about racism. For the record I'm a white guy. What I saw was a dull, stupid, plot less, badly done movie with inaudible dialogue and scenes constantly going in and out of focus. The film makes it clear that white men are all racist jerks and have no problem with killing black guys. And white women should just be used for sex. This attitude might have seemed revolutionary in 1971 but it comes across today as sexist, racist (against white people) and more than a little questionable. This film might actually have been disturbing if it had been better made. The acting was lousy and the technical aspects of the film were so bad that it's really hard to give an totally accurate judgment of it.
And the stupid tag line "Rated X by an all white jury" is ridiculous. Let's see...it opens with a young black kid (about 12) stripped down and forced to have sex with a woman. THAT alone should give it an X. And there's plenty of nudity, sexual acts and violence shown graphically. BTW it was lowered to an R in 1974.
After about 75 minutes of this I walked out of the theatre. I was just so bored and annoyed I couldn't stay till the end. A lousy, disjointed period piece. Skip it.
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a film whose reputation is based
almost entirely on its historical importance. When I finally saw it
after hearing a lot about it for many years, I was somewhat alarmed at
just how amateurish it in actual fact was. This isn't a problem in and
of itself but it was a bit surprising how raw it was given its fame and
reputation. Director and star Melvin Van Peebles was nothing if not a
visionary though, as this was the first film to tap into the African
American audience in quite this way. He created a new type of black
hero; one that was aggressive and sexually threatening. And one that we
are in no doubt is at odds with white authority. Unsurprisingly, this
film was made way outside of the mainstream but it turned a pretty big
profit from its small budget. As is always the way, other film-makers
took note including Hollywood and a plethora of exploitation movies
were made aimed squarely at this significant African American audience.
And with that the Blaxploitation sub-genre was born.
The basic story-line is really simple. A sex show performer called Sweetback kills a couple of cops who are beating up a fellow black man and then goes on the run through South Central L.A. on his way to the Mexican border. It's really the locations, people and authenticity that make it interesting though. The run down sections of L.A. in particular are great time-capsule stuff and give us a peek into a time and place where the streets really did look mean. Overall, the film is an interesting look at the black experience in the early 70's ghettos. It does give out its message pretty clearly about the repression of the black man in a white controlled culture. Its defiant stance must've struck a chord with its audience, as Sweetback is never portrayed as the criminal it's the police who are regarded as such, so it subverts the whole crime genre in this way. While it may be right-on about race, it's not so enlightened about sexual politics however. The women in the film seem to only exist for Sweetback to have sex with, while the often reported fact that Van Peebles was really having sex on film in these scenes is just too sleazy for me.
This is definitely a landmark movie, though, there is no doubt about that. But I would have to label it important but not that good. The reason I score it fairly high though is that, despite its many film-making short-comings it does have a relentless energy and the rawness of the production does in fact work in its favour at least to some extent. The crazed montage heavy editing keeps up the intensity and is even pretty experimental in approach a lot of the time, while the grimy locations and unusual characters possess an authenticity that serves it well. And underscoring it is a soundtrack of urgent urban funk that sets the scene extremely well. This latter factor was often the best thing about some of the later Blaxploitation movies in actual fact and remains one of the things that best defines them today. So, in summary, while this film isn't very good in a number of ways, it has enough attitude about it to raise it several rungs.
Everyone knows this film is deliberately racist and ridiculously
exploitive in its sex and violence. But I wasn't prepared for the solid
ten minutes of full-frontal child porn near the beginning.
An ugly hooker about 40 years old forces the director's son Mario, who couldn't have been more than twelve, to have sex with her. The copulation goes on for what seems like forever, with this naked hooker simulating orgasms while this naked little boy, half her size, tries to penetrate her. The director doesn't even spare us a shot of the little boy's tiny, undeveloped penis.
If anyone did this today, they would be jailed immediately for sexual exploitation of a child. I wonder how grown-up Mario feels about his own father having done this to him?
The film is certainly anti-white, but I fail to see how anyone can call it pro-black. You'd have a hard time finding a worse depiction of black life than this one -- where the main characters perform kinky sex shows for groups of leering onlookers, just to take one example.
The director's attitude towards women is despicable. He goes overboard depicting every female character as a nasty, ugly spunk receptacle. Don't bother looking for some white racist's depiction of black women as worthless, filthy skanks ... you'll find that right here.
If Van Peebles wanted to make an anti-white propaganda film, fine. It's a free country. But he couldn't have made an uglier, less coherent, more inept and clumsy picture than this one. If it's remembered at all it should be as the filthiest insult to the black community ever put on celluloid.
1st watched 4/22/2001 - 8 out of 10 (Dir-Melvin Van Peebles): Important film for the black community because it portrays the realities of how in many places blacks were treated by whites. This had never been done before in the movies before Sweetback. Prior to this, Hollywood preferred portraying blacks as ok as long as they acted white(aka. Sidney Poitier), otherwise they were minor bit players or charicatures of how the white community saw blacks. The film is paced by the Director like a journey that we as the viewers are on as we follow Sweetback as he runs from the police and meets up with various friends, lovers etc.(not unlike a road picture) after he killed a couple of white cops who unfairly beat up a black brother. We become more interested in him than what he's running from and I believe that was the intent of the filmmaker. The movie is filled with unique styling and music that works with the movie, with chanting for the main character and motivation for him to keep on keeping on. To me this seems like Van Peebles pushing the black community to do the same. Well needed and deserved pats on the back should have been given by all people for this film to Van Peebles.
SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG has a reputation as a landmark film. Some
hail it a masterpiece for depicting whites, and "The Man" as the oppressor.
It is also called the first blaxploitation film (even though COTTON COMES TO
HARLEM predates it). In spite of this reputation, few have actually seen
The truth is that SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG, in spite of the good intentions of its message, is poorly made pornographic trash. At the opening of the film we see an under-aged Sweetback have sex with a fat prostitute- and when I say we see it, I mean we SEE it. Not too much time goes by before we see grown up Sweetback (director Melvin Van Peebles) performing in a live sex show. The viewer is treated to a closeup of the star's member as he strips off a female disguise. Soon thereafter the "plot" starts. Our hero is arrested by the Oakland police. He witnesses them beating a young black man and kills them in his defense. The rest of the film is Sweetback running from the racist cops, sometimes stopping for graphic sex.
The photography in this film is terrible. A number of scenes are shot at night without lighting, basically making the action invisible. There is very little dialogue and Sweetback almost never speaks. When people are talking, they are badly miked and their acting doesn't help matters. The chase scenes are done in psychedelic montage which is both ugly and confusing. There are a number of scenes where the cops are asking members of the black community (the film's real star) as to the whereabouts of Sweetback. These are taken from the cops POV and from how it looks, the filmmakers just approached random people on the street and asked them if they'd seen Sweetback. The editor somehow managed to cut off most of their answers. It's hard to tell what's going on half the time, since the camera work is so bad and the dialogue so hard to hear. At one point Sweetback winds up with some bikers. What's he do? He has a kind of sex-match with one of the female bikers. This scene features enough clumsy disolves to make you dizzy and enough genital shots to get the X rating for any ten movies.
I can't tell why this mess is called such a great piece of work. It fails in every technical aspect, the "art" is bad even for an acid-head movie, and the story is nothing special. If anything, this movie hurts the cause of equality since it essentially depicts blacks as inhuman sex-addicted stereotypes. The whites are pretty much shown as monsters. This is the worst blaxploitation film I've ever seen and easily one of the hundred worst movies ever made. SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAAD ASSSSS SONG is no more than badly made violent pornography for the acid head. It's not a classic and it's not important.
This is quite possibly the worst film ever made! The story behind the
production and the intentions of Peebles may be inspiring, but the
movie sure ain't. Sure, the backbone of it was a seriously slap in the
face for the oppressive end of the white establishment which still
resonates today - and rightly so. But the significant message this
movie was conceived to communicate is utterly lost in an unbearably
sloppy 90 minute montage of violence, running and f**king. As if that
weren't poor taste enough, we even get to watch a guy taking a dump
wearing only a towel - lovely.
I have no moral objection to the film, but cannot get past the fact that it is utterly incoherent from start to finish. The plot is almost non-existent, and only about a third of the screen time has anything to do with the 'story' anyway. There are random scenes that have no apparent meaning or significance whatsoever.
It looks dreadful, as if the cameraman was on speed and crack at the same time. Beyond this, the night sequences (which make up a large percentage of the film) are so dark that you literally cannot see a thing. Alas, that may be just as well, as it goes some small way to detracting from the mind-blowingly poor 'acting'. Sweetback himself just pouts and minces about, and he's the best 'character' in there. The sound is awful, often with two songs (the same two songs on a continuous loop) literally playing on top of each other.
I really wanted to like this movie, and I still acknowledge it as a milestone in American culture and social history. As a side note, it was not the first blaxploitation film as is popularly believed - Cotton Comes to Harlem was a year earlier. That said, technically Sweetback isn't a blaxploitation film at all as it was financed and produced entirely by a black man. Moot point really, but worth mentioning.
In case my point has been lost, let me recapitulate. Sweet Sweetback has to be one of the very worst films I have ever seen in my life. As a piece of cinema, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about it whatsoever.
Approach this as a documentation of the shift in (black) American social consciousness as it related to popular culture of the late '60s and early '70s. Otherwise avoid it altogether, you'll thank me later.
I saw this film in Los Angeles in 1971. I was 13 and my cousin was 15, but we got into the theater, located in a lousy neighborhood without any problem. The film was really gross and trashy. But, people in the theater were cheering and going crazy when Sweetback was beating the heck out of the cops or banging away. Seemed to me the whole theme of this film was fu_k the establishment anyway you can. This movie was made and released at a time when the whole country was a total mess of rebellion, protest, and revolution. This worthless garbage got caught up with the movement and became a mega hit and a "groundbreaking work if film art." If released today, the movie would be a complete failure at the box office. The acting was horrible; the people involved looked like skid-row drug addicts. The best actor was the 250 pound man sitting on the toilet wearing a shower cap. Enough said. Pure trash. Trash that made over 16 million dollars. Only
The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. This film is inhumane. This film contains criminal acts committed on a minor. This film contains criminal acts orchestrated against a minor. Slavery and duress are involved in the production of this film. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. This film is inhumane. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. This film is inhumane. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. This film is inhumane. This film contains criminal acts committed on a minor. This film contains criminal acts orchestrated against a minor. Slavery and duress are involved in the production of this film. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. This film is inhumane. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted. This film is inhumane. The adults involved with this movie must be legally prosecuted.
My goodness, this movie was a genuine trip. undoubtedly the film-makers
were on something as well when they did this movie and I wish I could
say it resulted in a great movie.
The one and foremost reason why this movie is still considered to be a somewhat important one is because it is seen as the first true blaxploitation flick. And really, I absolutely love blaxploitation, no matter how bad and crazy those movies can get at times. It's because the movies are fun to watch, with its over-the-top characters and situations. I however got very little pleasure out of this movie. So while it perhaps was the first, it's also far from the best the genre has to offer.
Maybe because it's the first, it's also obviously a far from polished and typical genre movie. Some classic blaxploitation ingredients are there, while the movie is also being filled with a ton of more stuff, that was completely redundant and helped to make this movie a way too odd one at times.
This movie at times feels like a true psychedelic trip, with its odd scenes, crazy editing, visuals and music. It could had worked out if it helped to move the movie forward with but it really doesn't. The movie doesn't feel like its going anywhere and it really feels like a long sit as well, even though the movie is only about 97 minutes short. I most certainly was glad when it finally was over, since I was longing for the end, about 60 minutes in of it.
Don't even ask me what this movie is all about. Yes, I know that Sweetback is on the run but why and for who exactly all remains a big mystery to me. I also really don't know what the character of Sweetback was supposed to be all about and why he got a movie based around him.
The movie feels incredibly random with all of its scenes and developments. The movie has the occasional sex scene in it, no doubt all put in there so Melvin Van Peebles could allow himself to have some fun. He did not only played the main character but also directed and wrote the movie, among many other things. And believe me, at least some of the sex in this movie is real, since Melvin Van Peebles actually contracted gonorrhea from an 'actress' while shooting this movie.
It was also weird seeing an 14-year old Mario Van Peebles having a sex scene in this, as a young Sweetback, with an adult woman. How did they ever get away with this? I doubt it was real sex they were having but still...they were obviously really naked and on top of each other.
Because Van Peebles had to finance this movie himself, it most certainly isn't the most classy or best looking movie. The movie does not only has a cheap look to it but also a just plain bad look. At times it's really hard to say what's going on since the picture quality is too bad or a scene gets too dark at times to tell what's happening.
I can most certainly appreciate and like a good old fashioned blaxploitation flick but this movie just isn't very good or fun to watch.
The legendary film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, was the first
film specifically made for the black community, by the black community,
in order to not only give the black community a hero in the cinemas but
also to replicate the black experience. It became the first
blaxsploitation picture as well as one of the highest grossing
independent films of the 1970s. Melvin Van Peebles not only
self-financed the film, but also starred in it, wrote the screenplay,
and directed it. He also allowed his children to play in it, as well as
many of his closest friends. It is one of the most groundbreaking films
of all time. It not only helped change the shape of black cinema, but
also independent filmmaking at large. It tells the troubled story of a
male prostitute named Sweet Sweetback who, after witnessing police
brutality against a fellow black man, beats up a police officer. Now on
the run from the law, Sweetback must do what he can to avoid and evade
the police, even if that means involvement from the Hell's Angels and
using his "talent".
The big question is, how does the film hold up today? In my opinion, it's still an effective and powerful film in a lot of ways. However, there are some serious problems that many people will either be too distracted or too seasoned to overlook. It's frightfully shot. You can certainly tell that the filmmakers had to use cheap camera equipment because the film looks completely awful. It's one of the ugliest films I have ever seen, and a good portion of the time it's kinda hard to tell what's going on. At a lot of intervals in the film you can see gunk and sludge on the camera lens, and that can most certainly get in the way of the imagery I can imagine. However, personally I think this works to the film's advantage in a lot of ways. It helps add an element of authenticity to the subject matter. This is guerrilla filmmaking at it's best, so I can overlook the camera problems and technical difficulties. This film takes place in a landscape full of junkies, pimps, prostitutes, and other assorted street urchins. A lot of films have a purposefully grungy look and feel to them that gives many films a sense of style. The problem that many people may have here is that in this film it is not used for stylistic purposes. This is where these people lived. This was their world for this particular group of characters. It's rough, it's unpleasant, it's bizarre and it's somewhat nostalgic too. I like how the film gradually shows us more of Sweetback's world than it does of himself. I like that the film is shot in industrial landscapes and grimy alleyways. I think these kinds of settings work really well for a film with this kind of energy. What I appreciate most about this film is that it belongs in a class of it's own. It's definitely not exploitation, nor is it really trying to tell a story. There isn't any character development. There are no revelations or plot twists or surprises, save for the big big one at the very end of the film. There certainly isn't any likable characters, nor are there any characters that you feel you should hate. This film is just good guys, meaning the black community, and the bad guys, meaning white police officers. This film creates it's own landscape. Sure, the landscape may be full of crooked cops and repulsive sex, but it's a landscape that is new and that is fresh and full of energy and life and power and unique imagery. The film has a lot of radical imagery, and most of that comes when Sweetback is actually running from the man. A lot of it transcends the narrative confines of the film and actually makes a transverse turn into an alternate documentary reality that I found incredibly profound, honest, and admirable. Van Peebles obviously had a lot of ambitions for this film, and it shows. In many ways, this is a documentary. Eventually, the film even breaks the forth wall. I'm not going to spoil any surprises, but I will say that somehow this film gets it right.
When we first see Sweet Sweetback, he is only a little boy, played by Mario Van Peebles (Melvin's son), who appears hungry, dirty, tired, and starved. Soon after we, don't so much as see as much as we, witness a woman taking him into a room and having sex with him. The next time we see him, he is a man and he looks like a black cowboy, heroic and angry. When we see his eyes, however, he looks devoid of humanity, life, emotion, and the slightest hint of happiness. He is not a typical hero by any means. He's an underdog. He's a victim who fights back. He's a damaged man who is using all that remains to fight against what has destroyed his life and the lives of all of his brothers and sisters. I think that when it comes to a lot of films, we only get specific kinds of heroes. We get heroes who we could picture having in real life. To me, Sweet Sweetback is an outcast who has spent his entire life in the lowest parts of the low, and he's tired of it. I'm sure many people have felt like outcasts at one time or another, but not like Sweetback has. I think, despite what you may think of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, that this says more about independent film and black cinema than most films would have the balls to say. Even though it may not be a good film, it put a smile on my face and made me want to cheer, and that's something that I can't say about most films of this type.
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