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New Line Home Cinema presents
"The network does not want to see negroes on television unless they are buffoons."
DVD ReviewSatiric films walk a fine line between presenting creative insights and becoming offensive and distasteful. This is especially true when the subject concerns racism. Is it possible to satirize the painful elements of the past and still make a convincing point about today's society? Spike Lee stands on a thin tightrope with Bamboozled - a film that ridicules the entertainment industry and its treatment of African-Americans. Amazingly, he succeeds almost completely through excellent performances and an inventive screenplay.
Damon Wayans stars as Pierre Delacroix - an intelligent, frustrated television writer searching for the next hit. In a fit of desperation, he devises a plan to create an extremely racist and offensive show by placing his African-American actors in blackface. Along with his assistant Sloan (Jada Pinkett-Smith), Delacroix recruits homeless performers Manray (Savion Glover) and Womack (Tommy Davidson) to star in his apparently hopeless creation. Set in a watermelon patch, Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show incorporates old jokes from blackface revues of the past in a frightening presentation. Surprisingly, it becomes a major hit, which leads to devastating physical and emotional consequences.
Although it contains a few humorous moments, it is difficult to gather much laughter from this compelling and tumultuous story. Wayans' character speaks with a ridiculous accent that comes from a lack of a true identity, and this problem causes him intense stress. The variety show does contain some humorous material, but it's nearly impossible to look past the disturbing effects of the blackface. Michael Rapaport plays Dunwitty - a white television executive with an amusing belief about his own black identity. His statements are ridiculous, but they contain enough connections to reality to generate some poignant responses from their humor. These contradictions may not make Bamboozled an easy viewing, but they do create an emotional force that keeps it fresh in the mind for a long time. A resounding image is the close-up of Manray performing his heart out behind a dehumanizing mask. With a big smile and sweat bristling down his face, he hides the feelings of ridicule inside his heart.
Spike Lee films usually cover a wide variety of issues within the central story, and this one is no exception. While the primary target is the entertainment industry, it also shows the delusional ideas of characters on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Mau Maus are a group of supposedly liberal-minded young people who generate rap songs about social issues. Unfortunately, they're also missing the point of their own messages. They try to defy society's conventions, but they wear "Tommy Hilnigger" (an obvious spoof on popular clothes) and drink malt liquor called Da Bomb. This group features talented hip-hop artists like Mos Def and Canibus, and they do a nice job playing these unfortunate characters.
Bamboozled features a impressive cast of young African-American actors in sometimes unfamiliar roles. It's interesting to see comedic actors, such as Damon Wayans and Tommy Davidson, given the chance to act in more three-dimensional roles. Their comic backgrounds do play a part in their performances (especially Davidson's), but both actors receive thought-provoking scenes that highlight their talents. Michael Rapaport does a good job inhabiting the clueless and jeer-inducing executive, and Jada Pinkett-Smith gives Sloan a compelling level of humanity. Savion Glover has one of the toughest roles as Mantan, the lead in the ill-fated production. He utilizes his impressive tap skills while injecting his role with emotional weight.
While Lee tackles plenty of intriguing subject matter, he does miss the mark a few times and bring the story to an unfortunate halt. However, in a film of this magnitude, it's extremely difficult not to hit a few obstacles along the way. The climax of the story may seem inevitable, but it still lacked the force of some of the earlier images. This problem could stem from the lengthy running time, which stole some of the steam from the final resolution. Regardless, the film ends with a wonderful sequence of images that brings it to a near-perfect conclusion. With Terrance Blanchard's (Jungle Fever) touching piano score playing in the background, Lee shows the audience the shocking racism of the past that still haunts the entertainment industry today.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Because Bamboozled was shot almost entirely on digital video, it lacks the sharpness and detail inherent in the best DVD transfers from film prints. This 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer contains a decent level of grain in its picture, especially in a few outdoor scenes. However, this format does successfully convey the points of the film and provide a nice low-budget feel for the film. The bright colors of the television show's setting and the characters' bright makeup and costumes come across nicely. Within the limitations of the digital format, this is an impressive transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: This 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer fails to rank among the best tracks of the New Line Platinum Series editions. The surround speakers remain fairly quiet, with only a few instances of significant use. This occurs during the rap numbers by the Maus Maus and from the audience during the tapings of the show. This story is mostly driven by dialogue, so the sound capabilities aren't tested too often. However, the track provides clear dialogue and an impressive overall listening experience. When the piano score becomes more prominent during the second half, this transfer allows it to thrive.
This disc also contains an adequate 2.0-channel Dolby Surround audio transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
19 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Spike Lee
The saving graces of this disc are a fascinating documentary and a nice collection of 19 deleted scenes. The Making of Bamboozled runs for 53 minutes and contains numerous insights into the background of the film. Extensive interviews with Spike Lee, Damon Wayans, as well as several film critics and historians add greatly to the understanding of central themes of the story. We also learn about creating the sets, recording the score, and the press coverage after its release. This documentary was much more valuable than Lee's commentary and really enhanced my feelings about Bamboozled and its message. The deleted section includes some new scenes, extended versions, and slightly different variations of "Da Bomb" and "Tommy Hilnigger" commercials. One intriguing sequence has Manray being forced off the stage while performing at The Apollo. It provides another humiliation that would cause him to reconsider the blackface. Other scenes provide more information about Delacroix's relationship with his parents and his lack of control over the show's production. While none of this deleted footage drastically changes the film's overall story, they do provide some moments of interest about the characters.
This disc contains the Blak is Blak video from the Mau Maus - the fictional musical group from the film. It includes talented real-life rappers Mos Def, Cannibus, MC Search (from 3rd Bass), and Charli Baltimore. On its own, the song is a hard-hitting number with impressive verses from each member. It also has Gerald Levert's Dream With No Love - a slow, sad R&B track that showcases his excellent vocal abilities.
The remaining supplemental material includes cast and crew filmographies, an animated art gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. The filmographies are very extensive, and cover television appearances and early small films. This is similar to other New Line discs, and its unfortunate to see them stray from biographies. It would be interesting to learn more about a relatively unknown individual like Savion Glover. The art gallery is creative slide-slow type presentation with piano music playing in the background. It runs for about two-and-a-half minutes, and shows posters and art from the film in an animated form. The trailer comes with a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer and provides a nice overview of the film.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsSpike Lee is no stranger to taking risks on film, and he tackles a monster with the use of blackface in Bamboozled. While it functions as a satire, this story frightens because it's not ridiculous and has serious connections with real life. The entertainment industry may feel it is past the days of dehumanizing minstrel shows, but unfortunate elements still exist in television and film today.
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