#395- Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song

Quick recap: I’m just going to use the description from IMDb because it is perfectly stated: ‘After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from “the man” with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.’

Yeah. That’s what I watched.

Fun (?) fact: The band Earth, Wind, and Fire contributed to this film but have still not been properly compensated.

from season 5- Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badassss Song

Thoughts and Observations:

Still hungover after my encounter with Shaft, I had nothing but good vibes going into this movie. Finally, my film education can truly begin!

…..And the first scene of the movie is of an early teenage boy having his first sexual encounter. The audience learns that this is the origin of Sweetback, who is apparently really good at sex. My expectations of watching another revolutionary film began to tank. It’s hard to find anything I enjoyed about Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song but just like Pink Flamingos, this is not a movie meant for me. This a community, a group of people, that I did not grow up with and so can not really comment on. From the viewpoint of someone who just enjoys movies, this was incredibly hard to sit through. The acting is very stiff and amateur and the film quality leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, it also fascinated to me to feel like I was watching something ‘real’. The plot wasn’t real but the encounters with the community felt more like someone had just turned on a camcorder and started recording than it did a filmmaker orchestrating the whole thing.

Watchability score: 1/5. There’s only so much I can take of watching a guy run.

Up next: Babette’s Feast

#394- Au Revoir les Enfants

Quick recap: Two boys from completely different backgrounds form a strong bond during World War II.

Au-Revoir-Les-Enfants-1

Julien and Jean

Fun (?) fact: When Quentin Tarantino worked at a video rental place he couldn’t pronounce the name of this movie and so called it ‘that reservoir film’.

Thoughts and observations:

Knowing only that this was a French film about a boys boarding school, I already had some expectations of what I might encounter:

  • underage smoking
  • light to moderate horseplay
  • bedtime shenanigans
  • homoerotic implications

And this movie had all of that but also it was an emotional gut punch. I don’t use that term often but there’s just no other way to describe what I watched. As a matter of fact, after the credits were finished and I had mostly stopped sobbing, I grabbed my 10 year old and made him watch it with me again because it is just so important.

What makes this movie so unique is that the audience gets lulled into a false sense of security. On the surface, this is a story about a boy who is an outsider (Julien) who forms a strong bond with the new kid (Jean). It’s been done before, of course, but what’s different is that Jean is not just a new kid- he’s Jewish and being hidden away in this Catholic school during the height of World War II. Aside from a few clues- he doesn’t pray with the others, he doesn’t eat pork and his real last name is Klippenstein- the matter isn’t discussed in detail. For the most part, these boys are all surviving the war in their own way and how they treat Jean is similar to how they might treat any newcomer who happens to be very bright and introverted. It really made me think everything would be ok and the plan to hide the boys would work.

But of course, it doesn’t. The Gestapo raids the school and because of an unintentional glance towards his friend, Jean is outed by Julien as Jewish. The last scene of the boys standing in the cold and saying goodbye to their principal as he and the Jewish boys are taken away is one that will live with me for a long time. According to the director, who says this film is mostly autobiographical, all 4 were sent to a concentration camp and later murdered.

Watchability score: 5/5. Essential viewing. We also watched Jojo Rabbit afterwards, which turned out to be a suitable companion piece.

Up next: Sweet Sweetback’s badasssss song

 

 

 

#393- Shaft

Quick recap: Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man? Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

I’m talking about SHAFT

Fun (?) fact: Isaac Hayes originally auditioned for the role of Shaft but lost out to Richard Roundtree. He stayed on  to write the theme song, eventually winning an Oscar. I can dig it.

Thoughts and observations:

Alright, baby, let’s get to it! I L-O-V-E-D every single thing about this movie. Now it could be that I haven’t been around humans in months or maybe it’s the weird nostalgia I get when 1970s New York City is featured in film, but everything Shaft did was exciting. The action scenes were wonderful but I enjoyed myself just as much watching Shaft do such things as: get his shoes shined, sit in a coffee shop and my favorite-sit on the edge of the desk. How can someone be so cool so effortlessly? I never really understood what his job was or his connection to all the bad guys but it didn’t matter. As long as you were cool, he was cool, baby.

Race is of course a huge part of the film and one that I feel so uncomfortable talking about. All I can write about is my own experience and my own opinions so that’s what I will try and do. It was so frustrating to hear Shaft echo the sentiments about not trusting the police when we are having the same exact conversations 50 years later. Maybe the N-word isn’t used as regularly as it was in 1971…….but that’s about it. The concept of a Black hero is one that still resonates today. It’s so much easier to imagine one guy kicking everyone’s ass rather than expect a community to agree to tear down the effects of systematic racism. Shaft is the perfect escape movie for times like this. He helps Bumpy Jones find his daughter despite knowing how bad the guy is because that’s what you should do. It doesn’t matter the criminal record or past decisions, when someone needs help, you do it. Even if it is the police causing the problem in the first place. Even if you have no concept how the other person lives, that’s what you do. It might not look as cool as Shaft made it look but helping your community is something he totally digs.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Au Revior Les Enfants

 

#392-Voyage in Italy

Quick recap: A miserable husband and his equally miserable wife go on vacation where they find out just how miserable they truly are.

A barrel of fun, these two

Fun (?) fact: The Naples hotel the couple stayed in was the very same one Tony Soprano, of the Sopranos, stayed in many years later.

Thoughts and observations: 

As much as I fantasize visiting another country one day, Italy is just never in my Top 5 Destinations. But after watching this film, maybe it should be. If we can just ignore the main characters for a second ( or longer, if possible) there were so many breathtaking scenes- from the swanky hotel in Naples to the awe inspiring catacombs to the freaking VOLCANO just sitting there behind the villa. And these two married people-Katherine and Alex Joyce- hated every minute of it. Maybe I wouldn’t jump for joy if offered a trip to Italy but at least I wouldn’t be as miserable as these two. Among the many things they griped about:

  • the food. There’s a scene in which Katherine can barely stomach the spaghetti because she doesn’t know how to eat it.
  • people who speak Italian
  • how the air is too comfortable and it makes them sleepy
  • being at a party and having too much fun
  • being at a party and not acting like you are enjoying yourself

And it goes on. But what Katherine and Alex can at least agree on is how tired they are of each other and I totally get why. Alex spends his time criticizing his wife and shrugging off the few times she attempts to share deeply with him. And Katherine lives in a world of romance instead of reality, which causes her to deeply despise her husband. And yet when the two get the opportunity to spend time away from each other, they spend the entire time feeding their deep seated jealousy against one another. At the end of the movie, divorce is finally mentioned. Alex can’t be bothered to show any emotion while Katherine is about to lose her mind. The very last scene is of them getting out of their car during a parade, embracing, and saying ‘I love you’.

What I love about director Roberto Rossellini is how he was able to convey everything we needed to know about this couple just from their ‘slice of life’ vacation. There is a mention of a former lover of Katherine’s but that’s about it. No stories about how the two of them fell in love or shared previous vacations together or even whether the two had children. But that information isn’t needed because I could already tell the story just from the way they interacted. The best example of this is towards the end when Alex and Katherine visit the buried city of Pompeii. As they look at the fossilized remains of the people, Katherine is overcome with emotion and has to leave. Alex looks completely drained of any emotion but it’s easy to see just how much he is actually holding back. The way he looks at her as she pours her heart out to him is all the proof needed to know how much they truly care about each other. They should still check out a marriage counselor soon though, if there is any hope of a future for the two of them.

Watchability score: 4/5. Beautiful movie and interesting characters but the dubbing was a little confusing at times

Up next: SHAFT