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A young black orphan is picked up by a group of women who feed him and
give him a job as a towel boy in their brothel. One of the women
seduces him and the two have sex. Due to his apparently large member,
the woman, in a fit of ecstasy, nicknames him 'Sweetback'. When
Sweetback is grown, he is employed as a male prostitute who performs
for rich folk. When he witnesses police brutality on a black man, he
beats up two police officers and goes on the run. The film follows his
plight in a picaresque fashion, and he makes his way across a corrupt
and discriminative America.
Generally regarded as the first blaxploitation film (although whether it is in fact exploitation is questionable), Sweet Sweetback influenced a whole generation of film-makers, and gave a new voice to a social minority with a lot more to say than the majority. Director Melvin van Peebles (father to Mario), who also plays the eponymous hero, funded the project himself (with a little help from Bill Cosby), and the film went onto gross $4.1 million. The film became required viewing for members of the Black Panthers, and Sweetback himself can be seen giving the Panther first sign.
As socially and historically important as this film is, it's still not very good. Apart from van Peebles' use of some innovative jump-cuts and camera-work, I found the film hard work. The terrible editing often renders scenes unwatchable, and I had trouble even following what was happening during some of the fight scenes. Often characters just babble seemingly meaningless rubbish at the camera. I must also mention the very uncomfortable first sex scene which borders on child porn, which depicts a boy (played by Mario) of around 12 having sex with a woman, the both of them being completely naked. Very weird.
Van Peebles himself appears in a few sex scenes, that are apparently unsimulated. He actually contracted gonorrhoea during the shoot, and claimed workers compensation. This is a film all about black domination - Sweetback's large penis and sexual prowess standing for black superiority. As well as sexually, the black community are seen as superior mentally (the community pull together to outwit the police and protect Sweetback) and physically (Sweetback overpowers two policemen in a bar brawl). You can feel the anger and the desire to fight back in every scene.
Still, as interesting as the film is in a social context, this is extremely amateurish stuff. The last half an hour sees Sweetback running endlessly while the camera jumps around showing various landmarks to the sound of an extremely repetitive soundtrack. It goes on and on and on. But I suppose that any film that is indirectly responsible for Disco Godfather can't be all bad.
After reading some of the comments here, I wonder if we all saw the same movie. Nonstop sex and violence? Sweetback a radical? I don't think so. Sweetback is almost a nonentity who passively goes along with his environment -- ever notice how his hips never move while we has sex? He's hardly a part of the act and his so-called sexual prowess is a construct of the other person. He hardly speaks and is often spoken for, by Beetle the pimp, by the white cops. He snaps at long last and makes a statement against the whole crappy world around him. The transformation he makes is made while on the run, through the agony of always being on the run. I thought the cinematography and use of the choir chanting from afar was brilliant -- showing the world of his soul in painful transformation. Don't think blaxploitation, when you see this -- and see it you should -- but it is NOT a blaxploitation movie. It is mythology in the making.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ok, Ok...Now that the shock value has slightly diminished from my last
review, I decided to review the film once more and Well... the film
stands as one of a kind.
To begin things off, I first heard that this film was linked to have created the "Blaxpoitation" boom of the 70's. I can't argue with you on that. BUT hardly does this film connect in the same league as it's others do. Yes, there is the militant, social commentary regarding the African American standpoint of the time, but here it is represented to such a raw, dirty (literally) and striking attitude about freedom and liberation towards America's system.
*Possible Spoilers Ahead*
In no other film will you find: A) A young Sweetback quickly evolving from boy-to-man the way you do here B) Deliberate beatings involving both innocent suspects and authorized persons of the law C) An up-close encounter featuring a friend of Sweetback who is reluctant of helping him..while sitting on the toilet D)The way Sweetback is able to replenish himself of a wound via.....well, you'll see.
Technically, the film gets a bad rep for looking & sounding like crap at times, but in my view, this HELPS due to the film's nature. Also, An early EARTH, WIND, AND FIRE helped create its soundtrack, which can surely sound monotonous at times, especially when the "Sweetback" theme is played. But there are moments when the music becomes monumental. Most notably during the "C'MON FEET" segment which excites the chase between Sweetback and the police. He (Sweetback) begins to get tired from the constant running, and the law is hot on his heels. Yet he refuses to give up and...Just keeps on running while the police continue to run into another false mishap. And then there is the final, "ADRESS SPEECH" as I call it, when an exhausted and wounded Sweetback seems on the verge of giving up. Instead, the film's chorus of voices seems to resurrect Sweetback into not submitting, not giving himself onto the law, knowing that he does'nt stand a fair chance in court, and is able to regain his feet and keep on runnin'.
This is my kind of film-making if you ask me. So if you've got a tough stomach, a patient mind, and want to see something in cinema that you may not ever see again..Be my guest.
I saw this film on opening night in Philadelphia, Pa. The audience consisted of almost entirely young, Black men (mostly) and women who were obviously active in the civil rights movement,judging by the reactions of the men in the audience when Sweetback gave "the man" his definition of justice - beating the living crap out of them. His methods were quite original - especially with the pool cue. His sexual prowness was the main hit of the film for the ladies in the audience (I admit). The scene that really had me rooting for Sweetback was when he "popped" the white biker chick (in a most original manner) and she practically killed her biker boyfriend trying to join up with Sweetback in his quest. He merely cast her off like a used oilrag, which she was. Hilarious. There was a lot of anger among Black moviegoers at that time, which is why a lot of the blaxploitation films were successful. Our voices were heard loud and clear, especially in films, where our heroes were the victors against racist society and even more racist law enforcement, no matter how grisly, gruesome or violent the methods for dealing with them were. I had the pleasure of meeting Melvin Van Peebles at a screening and lecture of his work shortly after this film was made. His brilliance and genius were even more obvious as this man reflected on his determination to film, release and distribute this motion picture even though "white" America did everything they could to ban it, including slapping it with an "X" rating. I never understood the need for the "X" rating, as many of American-International's horror films were much more violent and graphic than this film (the "X" rating was not because of the sex)yet they were never banned or given that dreaded rating. I highly recommend this film to any student of filmmaking to view it not so much for the subject matter but to see the absolute genius in Mr. Van Peebles' work. Little money had he, but a lot of guts, brains and a wonderful and creative imagination made this film the success that it was.
Great movie! Melvin Van Peebles plays Sweetback, a radical who on the run after murdering some cops. He scored, financed, wrote, directed, and stared in not only the first in the genre, but also the best movie. Surprising amount of nudity and violence gave the film an X rating in the 70's, but now would only qualify for an R. That was pretty nasty when Sweetback put that sparkler on his genitals.
THIS was the first of its genre and i was cast as the *white* deputy who found Sweetback in the woods toward the end of the picture. I felt privileged to be a part of this beginning. I believe it was showtime recently who did a retrospective on black films....it was weird to see what i looked like 30 or so years ago! lol
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the first instance, this item is memorable for having one of the
most unusual titles in movie history. Not many words have five
Secondly; the director Van Peebles, plays the starring role and runs further than any actor in any other movie. He hardly ever stops.
Thirdly; it contains the grossest scene of child sexual-abuse that I have ever observed in a general-release movie. I can hardly imagine that it would be acceptable even today, let alone in 1971. We see a young, pubescent boy being forcibly 'broken-in' by an ugly middle-aged woman, whilst other adults engage in a gratuitous 'encouragement'. Even if no intercourse actually took place and the child depicted is actually above the age of consent; I just do not understand how the imagery is not pornographic.
Many commentators refer to the themes of so-called 'black-sploitation'. Few of those self-righteous hypocrites mention the seeming-exploitation of black children at at the hands of black adults.
The movie in general is of inferior production quality, with nothing to recommend its direction, editing, lighting or other technical elements. Its comparative rarity has endued it with a certain cult status, but I see nothing to justify that.
While it's camp value is worthy of a viewing, this movie is a mess from
a technical standpoint. The editing and sound engineering make it so
that you spend half the movie trying to figure out what the hell is
going on. I didn't even know Sweetback was supposed to be a prostitute
until I read it here. It seems to be more soft-core porn with a tacked
on plot rather than a serious movie. While it's a great time capsule of
60's attitudes towards sex, it comes across as more of a reason for
Melvin to get it on with actresses.
But apparently it didn't matter--the movie made money. Perhaps it's the total cheesiness that is the film's allure. Or maybe it's the excellent soundtrack (I really thought someone famous had done it) that gave it street cred. But it's probably all that silly sex going on throughout the film that made the film its money.
SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG (3+ outta 5 stars) Perhaps of more significance historically than cinematic ally, I nonetheless found this a fascinating film. It was not a widely distributed film but in the limited markets where it was shown (mostly in "black neighborhoods" I would imagine) it was a HUGE success. Watching this film now (a bizarre, disjointed "experimental" film) it's hard to imagine what audiences made of it back in the 60s. It's certainly doubtful that it would have the same impact if it came out today... but back in the 60s the very *idea* of a film centered on a black hero on the run from some less-than-perfect police officers was enough to blow peoples' minds. The movie is very a much a product of its time (lots of weird color effects and editing tricks) but I think the "dated" aspects of the film help put the audience back into that particular time and place rather than distancing them from the movie itself. It's not a perfect movie by any means but it has a strength and a style and great passion... and, in my view, that trumps bland competence.
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