Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) Poster

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From Another Era
momohund27 August 2006
This movie, when first watched by people from my generation (Gen X), doesn't seem to be very coherent. Something strange and psychedelic from a weird era. However, if you watch this movie and then watch How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass, which is a movie about making Sweet Sweetback, you'll see why this was so damn revolutionary. This was the first time Black America told White America on screen that the days of "kissing up to Shirley Temple's ass" were over. It was a political movie about Black America and even Minority America being tired of whiteness, as well as stating that Black America now has its own identity and society. It took some pretty strong courage to make this move when you consider the time frame that it came out in; the early seventies, a period that saw a shift from "I have a dream" to "By any means necessary." I believe this film opened the doors to allow black artistic media to be critical about white America, society, politics and corruption that generally would have been censored before. Sometimes I wonder if this helped pave the way for people like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and even Dave Chapelle. My father, a white man, told me that when he went to see this film back in 1971, the audience screamed and cheered during the opening scene when across the screen it read to "all the Brothers and Sisters who are tired of being held down by the Man." Nowadays people wouldn't really respond to that, not even black society I don't think, but back then it could have gotten you lynched, even in 1971. So when people screamed and cheered in the movie theater when they saw this, I think you can imagine how important a film like this must be in film history. No minority had ever dared to say that on the silver screen before.
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A must-see for fans of weirdness!
Brandt Sponseller14 February 2005
Considered the first blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song features Melvin Van Peebles (who also directed, wrote, produced, edited and did music for the film) as Sweetback, a Los Angeles-area "male prostitute"/"sex performer" (who only has relations with females). He agrees to be taken in to a police station as a suspect just to make a couple cops look good (because they are tolerant towards the cathouse he lives in). On the way, they pick up a Black Panther and start beating him senseless. Sweetback bludgeons and stabs the two cops with his handcuffs (one end is open) and the bulk of the film has him on the run. Can he make it to Mexico before he's caught?

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song has a lot of historical significance. It is an early independent film in what's considered the current "modern" style, it is one of the earliest mostly black films of its era (there were all black films earlier, such as Oscar Micheaux's work, but they disappeared for awhile), it was controversial (it initially earned an X rating (later changed to an R) and touted that fact proudly as a tagline), it was made for $150 thousand but grossed $15 million, and most importantly perhaps for some film lovers, it is credited with starting the blaxploitation craze in the 1970s. It is worth watching for students of film on those merits alone.

But none of those facts alone make it a good film, and none affect my rating. In terms of quality, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song gets my vaunted 5 out of 10 rating, which is usually reserved for "so bad they're good" films. Although it is loaded with flaws, as one might expect from a low budget film from the era shot guerilla-style on the streets of Los Angeles, it is a hoot to watch. On the weirdness scale, it definitely earns a 10.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is firmly mired in the psychedelic era. Peebles gives us frequent shots with negative or false colors near the beginning of the film. More frequently, he directs scenes so they have various "altered reality" allusions--time stretching, repeating, stopping and stuttering, bizarre actions and reactions from various characters, rambling nonsense, and so on--which for the viewer approximate the perception of someone who is wasted almost to the point of passing out. These scenes often play like some kind of avant-garde performance art, and are as much a focus of the film as any of the usually cited "political" messages rooted in racially oriented turmoil and disparity. Perhaps the intended theme was that race relations, and the urban reality of blacks to that point were as bizarre as acid trips, some good, some bad.

The music is equally bizarre (which I love), with a recurrent jazz/funk piece with an almost atonal saxophone melody being the unifier. Some of the vocal music is a veritable Greek chorus, narrating action and emotions, providing critiques and so on. Peebles also frequently layers musical tracks, so two or more can be playing at once for a minute or two.

The film is also notable and admirable for its abundance of almost graphic sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. The opening scene is particularly groundbreaking and laudable. Throughout the film, Sweetback is an unstoppable stud, with almost any woman he desires dropping her drawers for him, even towards the end of the film, despite the fact that he has an oozing, infected sore running up the side of his body, not to mention that he's filthy, and he's been drinking mud and eating raw lizards. The ladies still find him hot enough to give him a poke in the bushes. We need much more of this kind of material in contemporary films.

At one point, Peebles and/or director of photography Robert Maxwell appear to have hit the streets of Los Angeles, filming people at random after they asked them if they've seen Sweetback (the character). These shots are inserted into the extended chase scene near the end of the film (2/3 to 3/4 of the film is actually an extended chase scene). The effect is a lot of fun to watch--definitely guerilla film-making at its finest.

But the problems with the film are legion. Maxwell's camera frequently goes in and out of focus (being generous, we could interpret it with psychedelic intent, but I'm skeptical). Night scenes (which are thankfully avoided for the most part) tend to be seas of blackness where a viewer can only occasionally make out enough of an image to piece together the scene in their mind. The sound is awful--I couldn't make out about half of the dialogue (at one point I thought "this is more like watching a silent film"), and it doesn't help that some characters "jive talk"; if ever a film needed subtitles, it's this one. The camera occasionally has a spot, a hair, or some other gunk on the lens. There isn't much to the story; after awhile, it starts to play more like an odd music video. A lot of shots--scenery, cityscapes, etc.--look like they may have been randomly taken by Peebles with his home camera with the hopes of one day using them in a film.

Still, for fans of weirdness and "so bad they're good" films, not to mention any blaxploitation fan with his or her weight in barbecued ribs, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is a must see. Make sure you also check out How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass (aka Baadasssss!), Peebles' son Mario's 2003 film about Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
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The absolute beginning of a real "black" presence.
Frederick Reeves3 September 2001
I saw this movie in Boulder CO in 1971 in an audience that was half black and half white in a community in the mountains that was 99.4% white. Blacks in the audience obviously got the raucous humor only the blacks could get living in America...the white's didn't have a clue. As a Welfare Rights Organizer at the time i obviously identified with the black situation. This was the FIRST movie from the black point of view.

Von Peebles is to be commended for doing the impossible and i have used his example of forbearance and excellance for the past three decades. He had been in Europe for ten years prior to the film. He wanted to do the film. He didn't have the money. No one wanted to write it. He wrote it. Black actors of stature didn't want to be associated with it. He stars in it. He gets the financial backing. He gets an "X" rating because he would not have it submitted for a rating and because the only venue he could get was the "X" rated theatres. He still out grossed Easy Rider, which was the big history maker of low budget big return films.

Von Peebles was the first black man to tell it like it was at the time... and he blasted the black myths on and off the screen.
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As long as you don't study it for its technique...
morakanabad1 May 2003
This is a film that has several things going for it, none of them technical. The idea of shooting a movie with a largely black cast on dark streets at night without any sort of extra lighting is... well, a bad one, and coupled with its mic-in-the-cameraman's-back- pocket sound mix, an awful lot of the first half of the movie is just shy of being incomprehensible. Add in an editing job that suggests somebody was busy talking on the phone during the cutting of several key scenes, and you could have a real patience- tester of a film on your hands.

Thankfully, the mood of the film is positive enough that its deliriously illogical plot actually works in its favour. Greasy kid Mario van Peebles (minus the "van" here) is transformed into strapping man Melvin van Peebles in a meaningful encounter with a hooker, and you can buy it. On-the-lam hero Sweetback is challenged to a duel by bikers, and nobody so much as blinks when he suggests that it should be a duel of sexual prowess... hell, they don't even seem to care that he doesn't need to move in order to drive his women wild. He's even brought back from the dead by the chorused voices of The Black Community, and it all sort of makes sense, kind of.

In fact, it isn't until the very last shot of the movie, when you realize that 90 minutes and change have built up to... well, nothing much, really, except maybe a shred of belief in the power of an act of will, and perhaps the promise of a sequel, that you feel like taking the movie to task for its gaping technical flaws again. Even then, it's made so earnestly that I don't really have the heart to slag it for its ineptly-blocked camerawork and dreadful acting. I've seen much worse from filmmakers who weren't trying to change the world by giving a damn, so instead I'll talk it up by calling it the spiritual ancestor of the basketball-teleportation ending to He Got Game, and pretty much everything in The Matrix, too. That it was largely the work of one hugely inspired guy makes it all the cooler, so struggling filmmakers, take note! As long as you crib your technique from other places, Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song should be an inspiration to you.
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The Cinema of Melvin Van Peebles.
Joseph P. Ulibas27 August 2005
Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (1971) was a independent marvel from Melvin Van Peebles. It also influenced the so called black exploitation movement of the seventies. According to Mr. Peebles, after the surprise success of this film, the producers of SHAFT changed his character into a black man. Even beyond Hollywood, Mr. Peebles still has some creative control. Before he made this film and the small success of WATERMELON MAN, several Hollywood Studios wanted him to be a Black expert. They wanted him to doctor some scripts and make them "black" (the term he used can be found in his back about the making and selling of Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song (1971). This book is cool, it also has a lot of vital information, a script to the movie and a copy of the soundtrack.

Mr. Van Peebles used a lot of French new wave style of film making when he shot this movie. The many unique editing and camera angles can be found scattered throughout the movie. He also composed the brilliant soundtrack which also comes across as a concept album. You can listen to the movie on record! This movie was more of a statement to the White Establishment. That a black man can make a unique film without the restraints of the studio system and not have to answer to investors and anxious producers.

I have to give a hand to Mr. Van Peebles. He never gave in to the studios and make terrible sell-out projects. Like him or loathe him, you have to give him all the kudos he deserves and then some.

Highly recommended.
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One of the greatest underground hits of the 70s
funkyfry5 November 2002
A powerful film whose impact is through a montage of images, music, and dialogue, alternating to disorient and reorient the viewer. It might be pretty confusing plot-wise (or perhaps it just doesn't have much of a plot) and the actors are mostly bad, but this film was well thought out and executed with a goal of excellence (something that can't be said for many films, underground or Hollywood). To boot, it is also entertaining and probably gave the exploitation crowd their money's worth in 1971 with some hardcore violence and softcore sex.

Van Peebles created a unique experimental film that succeeds on its own terms. It is a classic for all time.
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The one that started it all ...
Mr Pants22 January 1999
You can say what you want about "blaxploitation" films. If nothing else, they can be a lot of fun in their overt use of black stereotypes and semi-predictable storylines. Since their construction is so obvious, it is not the same as the way blacks were portrayed in a film like "Birth of a Nation." Melvin Van Peebles put this thing together by himself (with a little monetary help from Bill Cosby), and while the technical quality is not exactly Hollywood, neither is the content. It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like to have been in the audiences for this film's premiere, as a strong black character emerges to defend his existence against the Racist State. The film uttered what nearly everybody has thought, and seeing it on the screen must have been a truly shocking experience. Perhaps even cathartic, but that may be pushing it. I don't know. I wasn't there.

Maybe it's a good sign that viewing such films today lends itself more to camp fun than any possible serious interpretation; it is a sign that we have moved on, at least a little bit.
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Perhaps it's an important film, but it really, really sucks...and that might be the nicest thing I can say about this film.
MartinHafer28 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This film, according to IMDb, is the first blaxploitation film. However, unlike the second ("Shaft"), this one is super-super low-budget and is a major chore to watch. That's because, quite frankly, the film is rougher and less polished than even the earliest John Waters film. In fact, there's almost nothing positive I can say about the movie--and it's light-years worse than the worst thing Ed Wood ever produced! Yes, folks, it's that bad! And, after having seen several dozen films in the genre, I think I have some idea what I'm talking about in this review. I've seen Mexican Mummy and Luchador films and "Sweet Sweetback" is SIGNIFICANTLY worse!

Let's talk about the cinematography...if you can even call it that. It's obvious that the cameraman tried to be adventurous and arty, but it ended up looking horrid. The film stock appeared to be, at best, 16mm and it was very, very grainy. The edits, it appears, were done by Ray Charles. I have never seen a more amateurish bit of camera-work--and I've reviewed over 8000 movies!

As for the acting...oh, the horror! Melvin Van Peebles says almost nothing and does almost nothing in the film--like it is a zombie film. Most people under anesthesia emote more than he did! The only thing close to acting that he seemed to do was have sex repeatedly--with very unattractive women. I assume most of his budget went to hire ugly prostitutes for these scenes. The rest of the actors were also horrible...but at least they were more animated and interesting that this writer/director/actor. He simply sleep-walked throughout the film.

Speaking of nude scenes, the film begins with a bit of child pornography. Mario Van Peebles, the way underage son of the director, engages in a very, very realistic sex act with a woman of about 30 years of age. They are both VERY naked and he appears to he having intercourse with her. How the film maker got away with this legally is beyond me. I assume Melvin was motivated by heroin or battery acid or a massive head injury which allowed him to make such an irresponsible scene.

As far as the plot goes, this could have been good...but wasn't. Plus, all too often, the plot was buried among sleaze. The first 10 minutes of the film consisted of having Melvin having sex in front of groups of people. You assume he's some sort of prostitute and he's about as far from Shaft (perhaps a bad choice) or Hammer or the other black heroes of the 70s as you can get. Eventually, the police arrest him and some other innocent man and start working the other guy over even though they know neither had anything to do with a crime--and the cops even admit this! They randomly picked a couple black men to beat up just to make the chief happy! But, while they are pummeling the other man, Melvin turns on them and beats the crap out of them. The rest of the film consists of the cops trying to catch him.

I am sure this was very satisfying for black audiences of the day, as they were probably very well acquainted with police brutality (a national sport up until the late 1960s) and Van Peebles was capitalizing on this resentment. But, with so many more competent blaxsploitation films out there, I suggest you try them first. In fact ANY other film of the genre is better than this film. In fact, ANY film is better than this one. In fact, staring as a toilet for 90 minutes is better...the film is that bad! Just because it's first doesn't mean it's best. It's horribly incompetent and looks like a film made by crack-heads. And, when you watch the director on the accompanying DVD extra, you assume this was the case.
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Ahead of its time!
Chemi Che-Mponda3 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I had heard a lot about Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song over the years, but finally got to see it yesterday, 5-2-04.

I have to say that I can see how it opened up a new genre..the Blaxploitation films. Whoa! It's powerful from the opening when we read about people in the black community oppressed by 'THE MAN' to the end when Sweetback escapes safely to Mexico (after killing hound dogs)!

There is a lot of symbolism as well. Sweetback lapping water like a dog from the ground in the desert, having sex with an almost Amazon looking white woman till she has an orgasm and calls his name 'Sweetback', Sweetback. Then she helps save him.

One big question I was left with, A woman surrounded by a lot of children says she may have had a child once named Leroy. He was taken away by the state and she doesn't know what happened to him. Is Leroy, really Sweetback? After all the movie opens with a starving, mangy , dirty little boy (young Sweetback) wolfing down food in a brothel and watched by Prostitutes. They take him in and raise him. I take it as saying that the system fails black youth.

The abuse by the white police was appalling, espceially when it came to searching for Sweetback. We hear the white police use the N-word liberally, and Black life is worthless. You can feel the anger of the oppressed black community in the film.

The film may be considered rebellious but I think its a masterpiece. And obviously, Hollywood thought so because it started the era of Blaxploitation films.
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Maybe I'm too old, maybe I'm not old enough. Maybe I just can't dig it, baby. I can't get down with the funk.
Michael DeZubiria11 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Whatever the case, Sweet Sweetback's Baad Assssssss Song came off to me as a vibrant exercise in bad taste, bad acting, a barely discernible plot, VERY bad editing, and lots of stupid, stupid white people. The opening feeding scene, the one with the whole crowd of women inexplicably overflowing with lust from watching a dirty kid shovel food into his mouth, is reminiscent of The Hairdresser's Husband, the vastly superior French film that uses similar low-cut necklines revealing massive breasts to illustrate the formation of sexual taboos later in life. Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss song has no time for that. Nope. Next scene, that same dirty kid is naked and reluctantly ravishing someone that I assume is a prostitute, but who could just as easily be his babysitter, his teacher, his mother, or his sister.

Doesn't matter which one, really. Even if it was his mother it wouldn't be as tasteless as the fact that what we're looking at is a 13-year-old kid completely naked between the legs of some woman who is equally naked. I have no problem with sex scenes, of course. It just strikes me as weird to see a movie that literally shows a 13-year-old kid having sex and then the movie (Shocked! Shocked!!) gives itself a tagline like 'Rated X by an all white jury.' What the hell?

I'm reminded of a classic Saturday Night Live skit in which Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan go to a nightclub and viciously gang-hump every woman on the dance floor and then when the security guards drag them to the exit they're all screaming 'What??! What?!?! What??!??!' How do they imply that an all black jury might have rated a movie with a naked 13-year-old kid in it? PG-13?

That being said, the movie is basically about a lot of incompetent white cops constantly pursuing someone named Sweetback, who has enough connections on the streets to afford him a good deal of protection and, of course, who is generally too cool for spoken dialogue. We're brought into the dismal world of the inner cities, a plight for which the white man is endlessly blamed and, to whatever extent, this may be true, but for the most part this movie celebrates the condemnation of the white man for causing the black man to live such a terrible life, while at the same time celebrating the black man's inability or unwillingness to do anything about that life beyond blaming the white man for it.

It's a controversial theory that the black community is more interested in blaming white people for their lot in life than they are in doing something to better their situation, but this movie does absolutely nothing to refute it, which is also the case in a disturbing number of 'blaxploitation' movies. Blaxploitation itself, as a term, is wildly misleading. I suppose it means that black people are blaxploited by greedy white men, hence their dismal urban lifestyle, while white people are whitesploited by black people, hence their constant appearance as greedy, racist, and complete drooling morons in 'blaxploitation' films. Pam Grier must be rolling in her grave.

I've heard the editing described as quick to disorient the viewer, which is not the case at all. What you have here is obtrusive editing without reason, cuts simply for the sake of cutting. Like many 1970s blaxploitation films, the movie halts in its tracks half a dozen times or so to turn into a music video for a little while, but the rough and awkward editing does not disorient the viewer, it stops the movie completely because it is totally devoid of meaning. It takes your attention away from what is happening on screen and puts it into the weird colors and shapes dancing across the screen, which have nothing to do with whatever the meaning of the movie is. This is not how you infuse a deep meaning or directorial significance onto a cheesy sexy movie, this is how you make a feature length film when you don't have enough story or material to fill that much screen time. Sometimes lines of dialogue are literally played over more than once. The need for such things escapes me.

In the movie's defense, it is very good at capturing the urban atmosphere in which the story takes place. When you watch the movie, you are there on the streets with the characters, you just have a hard time trying to follow what they're doing, what they're talking about, who's chasing who and why a black man is dancing on a stool while some idiot white guy stands directly behind him, staring at his backside and laughing hysterically. Wow.

The street life is portrayed very effectively, you see how bad it is to live in these areas, but then you have to wonder about the suffering when you see scenes like the one where Sweetback is forced by a gang of hysterical bikers to endure the unending torture of making love to a white woman while they all sit around laughing. What the hell is going on here?

(spoilers) Maybe I just made the mistake of watching Dirty Pretty Things just before seeing this, so I came into this movie having just watched a movie that squeezes in the sex and violence because they are necessary elements of the massive plot, while this movie stretches out the sex scenes and throws in random bits of plot here and there just to fill out the rest of the screen time. There literally is a point in the movie where Sweetback is running from the cops through the desert, becomes so decimated that he kills and eats a lizard, and then when he reaches civilization he stops to have sex with a prostitute in the dirt and have a couple of white cops stop by to giggle at him.

And not only that, if you make it through the movie you are not rewarded with the delivery of some message or cinematic meaning, you are literally rewarded with a series of shots showing a couple of dead dogs floating in a river. This normally is a figure of speech, but this is some of the stupidest s**t I've ever seen.

Here's something to consider – at one point in the movie the white cops chase and capture Sweetback, but wait! He turns out to be just some guy, not Sweetback at all! The guy gleefully explains that he was paid $5 by some guy to run from whoever chased him, and it just happened to be the police but hey! It's five DOLLARS! So the cops don't do a thing at all to this guy, even though he willfully evaded the police. I guess if you're paid to run then it's okay? The thing that really gets me is that white people are portrayed as so stupid and incompetent and endlessly idiotic in these movies, and yet at the same time they are the people who's power and influence black people simply cannot escape.

Given that, here's my question for you - Who do blaxploitation films really make look foolish in the end? Oh, and yes I realize that Pam Grier is alive and well. Thanks for reading all the way to the end of my review...
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One of the worst films ever made!
theskylabadventure22 July 2006
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.
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Badly dated
preppy-321 May 2005
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.
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Deserved its X rating
nutsy28 March 2004
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 it.

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.
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Child porn -- yuck!
fwmurnau8 September 2003
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.
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Important film for the black community...
dwpollar21 April 2001
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.
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TOWchanschic24 February 2005
This is probably the worst thing ever- and not just on film. We had to watch this in my film class as an example of blaxploitation and my teacher turned if off after 20 minutes. No real plot, very angry, very crass. If you are not from that era (or maybe even if you are) this movie will mean nothing to you. The first 5 minutes or so are practically child porn. The rest is just a man running from "the man" to the same crappy song. The dialogs is barely audible and the lighting at night or inside allows you to see absolutely nothing. I understand that this film was important as a civil movement and for many of the people associated it was their first chance for work, but their time would have been better spent on virtually any other project. I was in a classroom with 40 or 50 people and nobody, regardless of race, age, or sex, found any cinematic value- in fact the only pleasant thing I gained from this was that short moment of relief and pure joy when it was turned off.
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don't just take other people's word for it, see it.
tinydr4710 July 2004
reading others reviews of this film, I find myself both agreeing to some degree, and alternately being in complete disagreement.

"sweet sweetback" is a confusing movie. the first time i saw it, having already been exposed to the plethora of "blaxploitation" that followed it, my reaction was... "huh?"

really... people aren't being entirely unfair, this movie is kind of a big mess in some ways... on the other hand, one could say the same thing about some of the writings of say, James Joyce. And like Joyce I think it's a piece of work (and yes, art) that needs to be meditated upon again-and-again, not simply dismissed.

I do, as I implied, at the same time disagree with the negative reviews posted by some others... clearly everyone has a right to their interpretation, myself I think, as I've watched the film again-and-again, that it deserves far more credit than it's being given...
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Sweeter by far...
Mark Edwards3 March 2008
This is a landmark film for many reasons, and although it is rough around the edges, I urge everyone to at least watch it once, and then watch the story of the making of this film, Baadasssss! (A.K.A. How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass), made by the directors son, Mario Van Peebles.

It is very easy for a modern audience to perhaps overlook this film as one of the slew of 'Blaxpliotation' films produced in the 70s, however this stands out firstly as virtually the originator of that mode of films, and as a crusade for a young, talented black artist and director to make a film that is both honest and challenging about the representation of black people in cinema.

If nothing else you must respect Melvin Van Peebles for the Guerrilla film making techniques that created this movie.

This film is a great argument for the importance to minority groups within any society to gain access to and control of media production in order to challenge dominant ideologies and representations put forward in mainstream media.

It is also virtually impossible to view Baadasssss! without a tear coming to your eyes, so difficult and harrowing was Melvin Van Peebles journey to get this film made.
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what it lacks in technical prowess and cohesion it makes up for with a raw energy to be found only in the ground-breakers
MisterWhiplash26 April 2007
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is Melvin Van Peebles harsh, incisive, intentional baffling and revolutionary take on the black experience in America. It isn't that, exactly, but it gets down the how "the Man" keeps the black community down at every turn they can. To be sure, this was the first of what was called 'black-exploitation' films, but it isn't exactly that either. Sure, it shows the film's hero (and believe you-me, Van Peebles IS a bad-ass hero, at least in some circles) having sex with a LOT of women, mostly black and some white thrown in at random moments, and it has a completely one-sided view on the Caucasian presence in America (either rabidly racist and crooked cops, or women with a 'craving' for the Sweetback, and the occasional bikers). But it also intends to be a movie by black people, of black people, and FOR black people, to make what is intended as a statement on not just the image of African Americans in the country at the time, but what wasn't shown in movies at all.

In this latter sense, Van Peebles is making an attempt, much like Godard did with his early films (particularly Breathless and My Life to Live), to break through and re-configure conventions into something that is kind of f***ed up, but is alive and interesting in ways that more expensive or resourceful movies would have. Peebles makes his movies sort of out of junk-yard avant-garde parts, like some kind of garish vision taken in via superimpositions, montages, and a soundtrack as a combination of great Earth, Wind and Fire songs and a collage of voice-overs during Sweetback's run. Now, if looking at it from a purely objective viewpoint, of how it is technically, it's a little all over the place and, of course, totally dated. Peebles is also so intense with his camera- and rightfully so- that he lets his script sort of go into a better lack of focus; a lot of the time I only had a slight understanding of what was going on, and sometimes just not at all.

This being said, it's a tremendous credit to Peebles as an independent filmmaker that the film even got finished; he had many production difficulties, as later chronicled in the film Bad Asssss. It's a very rough movie, with scenes going very much into the realm of pornography (even though, unlike most pornos of the period, it doesn't go for the jugular with its angles and shots- if anything Peebles is a little inert as a lover). All the same, it has a lot that pops out as striking, not just in its rambling assortment of visuals, which combine location shots of urban sprawl, deserts, and industrial areas, with the very real, un-glamorized faces of those in the 'ghetto', but in the subject matter as well. It is sensationalized for cinematic effect, but the point still remains today, and is quite ideal as Peebles's most notoriously crazy and weirdly exciting effort.
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Powerful,truthful,anti-establishment piece...
nuport11 October 2002
WOW!I loved this !!Melvin is a genius filmaker of his time ,and anybody who was there in his time knows there was only a little exageration in this.Much of America tried to ban this picture which the man not only stars in but directed and wrote.I recall that many critics not only dismissed the film ,but many said Peebles was insane .I feel he was crazy like a fox because in those days a Black man just did'nt finance a movie , certainly did'nt direct one and if he appeared in one he was usually serving something.The fact is movies reflect the society that create them ,and Sweetback is no different .Stunning in its intensity ,filled with colorful characters ,this is the film white America does'nt want you to see ,besides "Mandingo" perhaps .I got 3 copies as soon as I could.Melvin was a deep thinker and it shows ,this is hardly for young kids though .Run get a copy theres the directors cut out now!
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Brilliant mythological movie!
magis_velim17 July 2001
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.
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"So bad asssss it will make you physically sick."
doraangel26 October 2006
Sweet sweetback's baadasssss song IMO should get an award as worst film ever made ,so Bad asssss it will make you physically sick, maybe the idea was to get stoned and then view it. Such films like ' "manos the hands of fate" in comparison seem classic.The films sound score contains a single song played monotonously throughout that doesn't make a soundtrack as for great camera work all vomit,the main character seems to always end up in meaningless orgies because of his sexual prowess but the scenes lack any imagination strictly missionary and aren't erotic, there's a meaningless chase scene which you cant really tell who he's running from.The film ends abruptly, the producer must have run out of money ,give a monkey a film camera and you'd end up with a better movie.I disliked this film because it seems devoid of developed characters and plot it felt as if the story was conceived as the filmed rolled.

IF you want to watch a true blaxploitation classic I recommend "hitman."
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Paul-20131 July 2004
First, I must state that I love Mario Van Peeple's "Badass." It is a far better film than this joke of a movie. Mario gave this movie far, far more credit than it deserved. Horrible acting, dialogue, editing... Heck, everything was horrible. I would love to see this on Mystery Science Theater.

This movie manages to insult just about everyone. Blacks, whites, hispanics, and women are not spared from some level of stupidity. This movie also proudly exploits children (Mario performing child porn) and women (performing lots of porn). The women in this movie are treated the same as they are in rap and metal videos. If this is Melvin's social statement, he doesn't think too highly of women.

This movie may have started the blaxploition genre but that doesn't mean this was a good movie. This movie had such potential because Melvin was the first black filmmaker to attempt to address serious social issues but failed miserably. Mario's movie did a great job of addressing the social injustices of the time. In the end, this movie had no point.

If this movie had been made by a white guy, it would have been called the most racist movie of all time.
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Very raw but made with attitude
Red-Barracuda14 February 2014
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.
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Toilet Waste Passing For Art
angelsunchained3 December 2015
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
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