#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

#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

 

#388- M

Quick recap: A child murderer is on the loose and everyone wants to see him caught: parents, the police and especially the criminals, whose good name is being ruined.

Fun (?) fact: Several groundbreaking techniques debuted in M, like voice-over narration and a musical theme to signify a character.

Bonus fact: Director Fritz Lang hired real criminals for the criminal court scene and several were later arrested.

Thoughts and Observations:

So, M was not the movie I expected at all. Not that I expected much because all I knew before watching it was that it was German and made in the early 30s. I pictured a mix of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Jazz Singer. Boy, was my face red when the very first scene was of a group of children singing a song about a murderer butchering them to bits! I still wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into until a few scenes later when the little girl’s body has been dumped in a clearing and the camera focuses on her balloon, no longer tethered, drifting into wires above.

like most things made for children back then, this balloon is a whole other level of creepy

I would be simplifying things too much by calling M a ‘murder mystery’. Yes, murder takes place but Fritz Lang not only wanted to show how different sides were impacted but to get the audience to empathize with each one:

The parents: the first scene of a mother lovingly making lunch while waiting for her child to arrive home from school (which never happened) was especially heartbreaking to watch.

The citizens: The entire town was in a frenzy and willing to suspect literally anyone talking to a child but at the same time, they were dealing with a serial killer who left zero clues.

The police: It’s always fascinating to learn how police solved crimes before DNA matching. In this case, they had one fingerprint and……that’s about it. And the longer it took to catch the murderer, the greater change the city would lose their collective mind and more children would be killed.

The criminal underworld: Did NOT see this one coming but it makes sense. The police began raiding bars every night and rounding up anyone without papers because they had nothing else to go on. As a result, the criminals weren’t able to do their various illegal activities- plus, they are pickpockets not child killers.

and finally, the murderer himself, a former asylum patient released as cured but very much still sick. Played perfectly by Peter Lorre ( a little too perfectly because he had trouble shaking the role even years later), the murderer is so very creepy as he whistles ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. But I couldn’t help but have sympathy for him as he tried to outrun the mob. His most powerful scene comes during the ‘trial’ with the criminal underworld as he begs for mercy because he couldn’t help himself. And as disgusted as I was by his actions, I believed him. In the final few minutes of the film, the police arrive and arrest him before mob justice is carried out. He gets the treatment he needs but the parents are left asking if justice was really served. It’s a question we still ask to this day without any clear answer.

Watchability score: 5/5

Up next: Gabbeh

#387- Breathless

Quick recap: After randomly killing a police office, Michel tries to convince a recent hook up to escape to Italy with him.

Se

I am equally in love with both Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo

Fun (?) fact: There’s a rumor that the movie was scriptless but that’s not entirely true. Godard wanted a spontaneous feel so he fed lines to the actors instead of having them memorize their own parts.

Thoughts and observations:

I don’t know if I’ve gotten better at understanding Godard’s films or it’s because I’ve had no social contact for the last three weeks because of quarantine, but I REALLY enjoyed this movie. I suspect the latter. What excited me so much about Breathless wasn’t the random philosophical discussions but instead seeing all the people! As 1930s films need a spinning newspaper, French movies always need a coffee shop scene and this one had me at the edge of my seat. No one had to keep 6 feet apart and they could linger at their table for as long as they wanted.

Jean Seberg, as Patricia, had my attention from the very beginning when she was walking down the street selling newspapers. Seeing as how I’m now in sweatpants 90% of the time, I loved living vicariously through her as changed into outfit after outfit for no apparent reason. I’d forgotten about dressing up and going out somewhere. And more than that, I loved how complicated her love for Michel was. When they first met up she was confused, saying that they only hooked up a few times so didn’t understand why he wanted her to flee to Rome with him so badly. But then in the next scene she insinuates that she is pregnant with his child. The way she looked at him sometimes was pure love but by the end of the film she had turned him into police. I wanted the best for her the entire time but I didn’t know what the ‘best’ was.

And as for Michel, I had no idea how to feel about him at all. On one hand he killed a cop and stole several cars. But on the other hand, look at him:

I rest my case

He was the very definition of toxic and there would be no way he would actually make it out of the country but I still would’ve taken my chances.

Watchability score: 4/5. I’m as surprised as you!

Up next: M