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 Blaxplo- My Essay

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Join date : 2008-11-11
Location : Sweaty taint

PostSubject: Blaxplo- My Essay   Tue Nov 11, 2008 4:58 pm

Imagine if you will, a fifth dimension, a world populated by creatures attired in bright purples and oranges. Creatures known as Macks, Flys and Hos. The Players usually sporting canes, wide brimmed hats with oversized plumage and the optional day-glo half cape. The women wouldn’t be caught dead without their feather boas and 12” platform shoes. The hair style- Afro- the larger the better. Mix copiously with assorted hustlers, dealers, fuming racist, white gangsters and the occasional Kung Fu master. This is the world of Blaxplo.

During the late 60s- early 70s, a wave of films populated by predominantly African American actors, became hugely successful. Actors who never really got visibility in major roles, were now getting a shot at the big time. In reality, the "race cinema" had been around as long as mainstream cinema. One of it's earliest pioneers was Noble Johnson, an enduring character actor(King Kong) who created the first all-black film studio.

One of the most controversial views of blaxplos was that, although they were directed by caucasians (most of the time) and starred black actors, the films themselves still glorified racism. Many viewers were disturbed by this. The consensus of many was that all these movies did was provide the notion that all black audiences wanted to see was brutal acts of violence and could not comprehend a more subdued or serious cinematic experience. There were those who thought that instead of helping the black movement, it was hurting it instead.

Many of the films were made by American International Pictures. The big studios got in on the act after they saw how profitable these movies were. They were all very low budget and usually played in rural or inner city grindhouses.

It is arguable in any discussion of this genre, of which movie got it all started. Melvin Van Peeble’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was released months before Shaft. Gordon Park’s Shaft, the more successful of the 2, was based on the novel of the same name by Ernest Tidyman. Shaft was backed by a major studio, MGM (with a budget of $1.2 million, eventually earning over $18 million), and directed by a proven director.

Sweetback, on the other hand, was not a product of the studio. It definitely stands as a landmark film which got the attention of many studios and white film makers, who saw the potential of tapping a long ignored market. Van Peebles on his own dime and $50,000 borrowed from Bill Cosby, made Sweetback for around half a mil. Van Peebles disguised the film as a porno to keep costs low and avoid having to use union production help. A lot of the sex in the film apparently was not simulated (the film was released with an X rating). Van Peebles, himself, contracted gonorrhea from a cast member and filed for workman’s comp. He received it, and used the funds to purchase additional film to complete the production.

Shaft, the major studio product directed by Gordon Parks, got the major attention, especially after garnering an Oscar for the late, great soul man Isaac Hayes’ powerful theme song(try to remember an Oscar winning song other than Titanic since then). There would be two sequels, Shaft’s Big Score (1972) and Shaft In Africa (1973) and also a watered down television series with Richard Roundtree continuing the role.

Football HOF running back Jim Brown was probably the first Blaxplo actors to attain success in big studio movies, beginning with The Dirty Dozen, 100 Rifles, Dark of the Sun and I Escaped from Devil's Island. Brown cemented that fame with the 1972 film Slaughter directed by Jack Starrett. Co-starring Stella Stevens and Rip Torn who does a great villain turn. The film was successful enough that a sequel followed in '73 entitled Slaughter's Big Rip-Off. Here, Ed McMahon(yes, that Ed McMahon) plays the head baddie who assigns an assassin(Don Stroud) to take out Slaughter before he can avenge the death of a friend and expose his criminal activities. Directed by Gordon Douglas who made the excellent sci-fi film Them! Brown also appeared in Black Gunn, the Blaxplo Western Take A Hard Ride from Antonio Margheriti and the tepid One Down, Two To Go also featuring Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly and Richard Roundtree.

One of the most popular of the blaxplo actors would be another former NFL great, Fred "the Hammer" Williamson. He would appear in dozens of action movies as well as creating his own production company, Po Boy Productions. Some of his films included Mean Johnny Barrows, Death Journey and One Down, Two to Go. Williamson would also appear in the unfinished The New Spartans which had an incredible cast including Patrick Wayne, Toshiro Mifune, and Jimmy Wang Yu. Due to lack of funds, a promotional still of the cast is all that remains of what could have been one of the greatest exploitation actioners of the era. Williamson would keep the genre afloat with many films, most of them forgettable. He moved on to Italy where he did a string of Mad Max rip-offs like Castellari's The New Barbarians and Fulci's gory and downbeat Endgame.

Williamson starred in 1972’s Hammer, a fairly routine effort bolstered by the performance of William Smith, a former weight lifter who, according to Williamson, was the toughest man he had ever met. After Hammer, Williamson went on to star in Black Caesar, directed by Larry Cohen who also made Bone with Yaphett Kotto and Hell Up in Harlem (1973). Caesar has a very similar storyline to Scarface(DePalma vers.). Williamson and Cohen had a parting of the ways that wasn't on the best of terms, but they re-united long enough to do the throwback Original Gangstas in 1996.

One of my personal favorites, Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner starring Isaac Hayes. Here, Hayes plays a bounty hunter with Nichelle Nichols (Uhura from Star Trek) who is a ringleader of a prostitute ring, in one of the most raunchy, foul mouthed roles you'll ever see. The violence level is extremely high and bloody. Yaphet Kotto is (as always) excellent as the head villain.

Hayes also starred in the only Italo-blaxplo hybrid, Tough Guys, along with Fred Williamson. A Dino de Laurentiis production with some spaghetti western vets on hand. Duccio Tessari (A Pistol for Ringo) directs. Apparently, the Italians did not know how to approach the material, as this is a very dull entry in the genre.

Around 1973 an actress named Pam Grier would shake up the BlaxPlo world with a double punch of classics from the great low budget director Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Switchblade Sisters). The films were Coffy and Foxy Brown. Grier had appeared in several movies prior, including Scream, Blacula, Scream!, The Twilight People and Black Mama, White Mama also starring Margaret Markov(another Blaxplo/WIP veteran).

Coffy turned Grier into the quintessential pistol whippin’ mama, ready to get her vengeance with violence or sex. Co-starring the always reliable Sid Haig as a nasty villain. The violence level is extremely high and the tone is very serious. Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers even did their own version of Coffy in 1976, topping it in violence and sleaze - The Sexy Killer.

1974’s Foxy Brown brought playfulness and a sarcastic aura to the table. It’s also more memorable than Coffy. Foxy has Grier avenging the murder of her boyfriend by infiltrating a crime ring. Grier's character is brutally beaten, raped and forcefully shot up with drugs, but comes back with a vengeance. A great film for novices to start with.

Grier would also appear in Bucktown with Williamson and Carl Weathers, Friday Foster with Kotto and Weathers and Sheba, Baby and supporting roles in Mandingo and Drum. Grier never would fully escape the genre that made her famous.

The most outrageous example of the genre would have to be Dolemite starring Rudy Ray Moore, a stand up comedian with an act similar to Redd Foxx or Richard Pryor. Dolemite is part satire, part action and all fun. Moore’s trademark line "Dolemite, motherfucker!" prior to dispatching the bad guys is classic. Moore followed up with Disco Godfather, The Human Tornado, Peaty Wheatstraw, and The Devil's Son-In-Law. In 2000, Moore returned to the character in ICP’s Big Money Hustlas, the first time in over 20 years.

Ironically, one of the most successful films of the genre, 1973’s Super Fly, brought about it’s demise, in it’s purest form. The title character played by Ron O’Neal was a pimp and drug dealer, and the film seemed to glorify his lifestyle. This brought outrage from both the black and white communities. I’ve always found this film to be one of the weaker entries, and watching it now, it’s kind of hard to figure out what the fuss was about. I kind of regard it as the Traci Lords of this genre. It was followed up with the much improved Superfly T.N.T, but by then, it was too late.

Blaxplo sought resurrection in various hybrid forms, blending with martial arts, comedy, disco musical and assorted varieties of actioners. It had various revivals including the hit and miss 1988 comedy I'm Gonna Git You Sucka and a very dull Shaft remake. It still goes on, IMO, in the various direct-to-video gangsta flix featuring rap stars. But they fail to capture the ridiculous energy and underlying comedy of the originals.

Here are some of the best of the genre: Trouble Man, Hell Up in Harlem, The Black Gestapo, Cleopatra Jones , The Black Six, If He Hollers Let Him Go, Black Vengeance, Watermelon Man, Mr. Big, Five on the Black Hand Side, T.N.T. Jackson, The Mack, Boss Nigger, Across 110th Street , The Legend Of Nigger Charley, Darktown Strutters, Brotherhood Of Death, The Klansmen (with O.J. Simpson as a Klan killer), The Arena, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Three the Hard Way, Black Caesar, Black Belt Jones, Savage Sisters, Car Wash, Lady Cocoa, That Man Bolt, The Big Bird Cage,The Big Doll House, Black Fist, Black Gunn, Black Mama, White Mama, Black Snake, Darktown Strutters, Mandingo, Putney Swope, Sheba, Baby , and Willie Dynamite amongst many more.

For us horror buffs: Ganja & Hess, Blacula, Sugar Hill, J. D.'s Revenge, Dr. Black & Mr. Hyde, Blackenstein, Scream, Blacula, Scream, Abby,
And a nice little site devoted to them- BlackHorrorMovies.com at-

Great notable actors: Thalmus Rasulala, Vonetta Magee(Klaus Kinski ex- girlfriend from the 60’s), the recently departed Calvin Lockhart, Judy Pace, Rosalind Cash, Paula Kelly, Raymond St. Jacques, Moses Gunn, Duane Jones, Woody Strode, Godfrey Cambridge, Richard Pryor, Jim Kelly, Theresa Graves, Lola Falana, Julius Harris, Grace Jones, Tamara Dobson, Lonette McKee, Bernie Casey, Carol Speed, Brenda Sykes, Max Julien, Robert Hooks, Sheila Frazier, D’Urville Martin, Gloria Hendry, Roscoe Lee Browne and Cleavon Little to name a few. Oh, and a who’s who of white U.S. and overseas character actors(they almost slipped my mind).

Great music: Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and many more.
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PostSubject: Re: Blaxplo- My Essay   Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:06 pm

Mapache wrote:
Van Peebles, himself, contracted gonorrhea from a cast member and filed for workman’s comp. He received it, and used the funds to purchase additional film to complete the production.

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