Saturday, January 30, 2010

Review: Superb "Baadasssss" Recounts Landmark Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 185 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Baadasssss! (2004)
First released as How to Get the Man’s Foot Outta Your Ass (2003)
Running time: 108 minutes; MPAA – R for pervasive language and some strong sexuality/nudity
WRITERS: Mario Van Peebles and Dan Haggerty (from the book by Melvin Van Peebles)
EDITORS: Nneka Goforth and Anthony Miller

DRAMA with elements of a documentary

Starring: Mario Van Peebles, Joy Bryant, T.K. Carter, Terry Crews, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier, Nia Long, Paul Rodriguez, Saul Rubinek, Vincent Schiavelli, Khelo Thomas, Rainn Wilson, Len Lesser, Sally Struthers, Adam West, Ralph Martin, Robert Peters, Khalil Kain, and John Singleton

Baadasssss! is writer/director/actor Mario Van Peebles quasi-documentary/part tribute film dramatization of his father, Melvin Van Peebles’ struggle to direct and get distribution for his quintessential blaxploitation flick, Sweet Sweetback Baadasssss Song. Mario Van Peebles seamlessly weaves a film that is both a riveting drama and a searing document and testimony of the struggle of the black artist to get his work to black people, in particularly black filmmakers, who still struggle (though not as much as Melvin Van Peebles did in the early 70’s) to get black visions before not only a black audience, but all filmgoers.

Maybe what makes the film really get into the soul of the viewer is that the co-writer, director, and producer, Mario, is playing his father Melvin Van Peebles. Mario did play a part in the Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, so his memories do color the film’s recollection of history. However, Van Peebles seems able to view his father’s artistic and commercial struggles as a filmmaker because Mario has also struggled to get his directorial vision on film. The work, as both Mario’s own film and the movie about his father’s trials on his own film, makes Baadasssss! double personal to Mario. Thus, Baadasssss! is both film as the history of filmmaking and a film about filmmaking, and it does both of them quite well.

Mario, however, like his father, didn’t make a film alone, and though Mario conveys the intensity of the filmmaker’s struggle with a bravura performance, the supporting cast expertly creates an atmosphere of contention, support, financial and logistical chaos that makes the version of Melvin’s war that Mario puts on film seem so damn real. Standouts include David Alan Grier, Joy Bryant, Rainn Wilson, and Khelo Thomas as young Mario Van Peebles.

A film of such powerful inspirational force, Baadasssss! is a must see for fans of movie history in general and of African-American cinema, in particular. Most of all it’s a perfect portrayal of an artist going through the fire for his work.

10 of 10


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