Melvin Van Peebles stunned the world for the first time, with his debut feature, The Story of a Three Day Pass. Filmed in France and selected as the French entry in the San Francisco Film Festival, Melvin's film was awarded the top prize. Saying it was controversial would be an understatement. In 1968 for a black man to walk up to the podium and accept the top festival award for a film he had to go abroad to make--now that's how you make your mark. After his comedy, Watermelon Man, Melvin was determined to push the Hollywood boundaries with the groundbreaking, and even more controversial, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Turned down by every major studio including Columbia, where he had a three-picture deal, Melvin was forced to basically self-finance. Risking everything he had, Melvin delivered to the world the first Black Ghetto hero on the big screen--whether they were ready or not. More than 30 years later, history is being fashioned again in the telling of this very tale. Mario...Written by
Sujit R. Varma
While in the "D"...Detroit, The DJ announces the radio station's call letters beginning with "K" Call letters for radio and television stations in that area of the country start with "W". See more »
Melvin Van Peebles:
Is this something negative, Priscilla? Because if it's negative, I can't even deal with it right now. I'm a broke, pissed off nigger from Chicago, and I'm down to my last cigar.
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Real-life participants of the production of "Sweet Sweetback's..." give testimony during the closing credits, including Earth, Wind & Fire founding member Maurice White, who confirmed the "bounced check" story. Melvin Van Peebles himself appears onscreen when the credits finish. See more »
Up & Down
Performed by Niki J. Crawford
New Dog Old Trix Publishing, Country Girl Entertainment
Written by (c) Adam Hirsh, Niki J. Crawford
Courtesy of Treehouse Music Inc., Country Girl Entertainment See more »
A must-see for anyone interested in film-making or screen writing
It's a real shame that mediocre indie films, such as "Open Water" and "Napoleon Dynamite," get tons of publicity while a gem like "Baadasssss!" goes unnoticed.
Director and co-writer Mario Van Peebles affectionately, but truthfully, chronicles a fictional telling of his father, Melvin Van Peebles' attempt to make "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," modern black cinema's groundbreaking film, which was compulsory viewing for the Black Panthers and paved the way for countless black actors, filmmakers and film technicians. The Spike Lees, Ernest Dickersons, John Singletons and Wayanses owe a huge debt of gratitude to not only what Melvin accomplished 33 years ago, but also how he did it.
Mario Van Peebles' previous directorial efforts, "New Jack City" (1991), "Posse" (1993) and "Panther" (1995), showed potential, but were mired in clichés and turned out to be rather forgettable. That's not the case with "Baadasssss!"
This is an exciting, funny and moving film about one man's zeal to make the movie he wants to make. Melvin did not want to kowtow to studios and was fed up with how blacks were portrayed in Hollywood movies. So he set out to make a movie where the black man fought back, then went on the run and got away. And he did it with an ethnically diverse crew (which was unheard of then), many of whom knew little or nothing about movie-making.
"Baadasssss!" brilliantly illustrates Melvin's struggles, including pretending he was shooting a black porno film to hide his real intent from the crafts unions, running out of money, losing his vision in one eye and finding a distributor for "Sweet Sweetback."
Mario shows a deep sense of love and respect for his father's achievement. But Mario definitely doesn't sugarcoat his depiction of Melvin. The Melvin we see in this film is a driven, obsessive man who loves his friends and family deeply, but won't let anything or anyone stop his film, including the weekend jailing of his crew. Mario's reluctance about being forced to be in a "sex scene" in his dad's movie is one of the film's highlights. The moment works thanks to a nicely subdued and thoughtful performance by Khleo Thomas as the young Mario.
Mario Van Peebles and Dennis Haggerty penned a smart, energetic script. They add a nice undercurrent to the story by creating a father-son dynamic, which adds a layer of surprising depth to the story. Mario Van Peebles so completely immerses himself into the role of his father that we forget we're watching Mario play Melvin.
Where the script falters is in its over-reliance on voice-over narration used to to convey Melvin's thoughts. It works sometimes. But it also seems obtrusive. For instance, Melvin's thoughts about the contents of the props drawer aren't needed because we're smart enough to know how dangerous or funny it could have all turned out.
"Baadasssss!" is as much about Melvin's passion to make his influential film as it is about the importance of maintaining one's integrity. Just as Melvin didn't compromise his story, Mario, too, apparently held out and refused to compromise. Producers wanted him to make the film more acceptable to "a white audience" or toss in some hip-hop. But Mario didn't relent and made the film he wanted to make.
The paradox about this film about the making of a film is that while Mario's movie is technically and cinematic ally superior to Melvin's seminal film, "Baadasssss!" ultimately isn't as politically, socially or historically influential as the film it chronicles. Nevertheless, for anyone interested in movie-making, "Baadasssss!" is a must, along with the documentaries, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (1991) and "Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography" (1992). "Baadasssss!" is one of the best and most enjoyable films ever made about film-making.
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