Mario Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, and the film charts the making of Melvin VanPeebles’ landmark 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Obsessed withmaking a film by and about his community, and expressing all the built-up anger of his peopleand his time, Melvin will stop at nothing in the fulfilment of his dream. The economic, personaland health costs are very high.
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is arguably where Black cinema begins,…andis unquestionably where blaxploitation begins. There would be no Shaft, noSuperfly, no Foxy Brown without this movie. Raw, angry and impressive in thatit came together at all, given what the filmmaker was up against, it is also frequently clumsy,laughable and dull. None of that is true of Baadasssss!, which explodes out of the startinggate and never lets up. Mario Van Peebles portrait of his father is warts-and-all, and though hisstyle is kinetic and visually exciting, he never loses track of his characters, either. The bestfictionalized biography since 24 Hour Party People.
The sense of a raucous, all-encompassing environment is immediate, as the speakers explodewith the echoes of protest chants. Music and effects continue to have an extremely muscularpresence throughout the film’s running time. The dialogue is never drowned out, however, andit never distorts.
Overall, an excellent transfer, with stunning colours (and an extremely varied palette), terrificblacks and flesh tones, and a razor-sharp image. There is no grain, and only a tiny bit ofdetectable edge enhancement. There is one odd flaw, about 42 minutes in, when the movementbecomes jerky for about three seconds. Other than that, fine stuff.
Mario and Melvin Van Peebles do a tag-team commentary, which is as much about theirrelationship as it is about both movies. They do inevitably repeat a lot of the same informationthat the feature itself has already told us, but their conversation is never less than interesting.“The Story Behind Baadasssss!: The Birth of Black Cinema” is a 22-minute featurette that, whilepromotional in purpose, is still very informative. “The Premiere” is a short featurette showing thepremiere of the new movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (one can’t help but with this had beenabout Sweetback’s premiere). There’s a videotaped Q&A session with Melvin at theAmerican Cinematheque, a poster gallery, and a handful of bonus trailers beyond that forBaadasssss!. The menu is basic.
A terrific film, looking and sounding damn fine. If only it had been possible to includeSweet Sweeetback itself among the extras, this release would have been aboutperfect.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- “The Story Behind Baadasssss!” Featurette
- Premiere Featurette
- American Cinematheque Q&A with Melvin Van Peebles
- Poster Gallery