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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"Rated X by an all white jury"
DVD ReviewSo many people have a sort of picturesque and ideal thought of what exactly goes into making a movie. Many of us are treated to behind-the-scenes pieces with cast and crew telling tales of what a joy the film in question was to make, but very few of us see the struggles. Budget and other concerns plague filmmakers everyday, and few have ever done so much with so little as Melvin Van Peebles in his groundbreaking classic, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a landmark in Black cinema.
Baadasssss is not so much a tribute to the now legendary filmmaker as an incendiary piece of filmmaking that dares to not only show the harsh conditions of getting that film made, but also spotlights a father/son relationship that may seem horrifying to many.
As the film opens, Melvin Van Peebles (Mario Van Peebles) has just finished Watermelon Man for Columbia Pictures and now has a three-picture deal with the studio. Upset with the stereotypical view of blacks in Hollywood, Melvin gets the idea for Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a film about a man raised in a brothel who attacks two white cops and eludes capture. At the time of its release, it was certain that the film would be a disaster, but it almost single-handedly defined the "blaxploitation" genre. While the film is legend in and of itself, the trials and tribulations that plagued production are as fascinating as anything to be found in Sweetback.
Baadasssss is comical and dramatic look at the making of the classic film as Melvin is seen sweet talking numerous girls into doing nude scenes for the film, blowing up a car and then using actual footage of the responding firefighters for the film. But the weight of the picture is found in the relationship between Melvin and young Mario (Thomas) and the harrowing moments that occurred during production. The most powerful moment in the film involves Mario being forced into service by his father to shoot a sex scene in a brothel, it is clear that this was an unforgettable moment for Mario as in Baadasssss we see reactions of the cast and crew, save Melvin, with a look of shock on their faces.
With Mario Van Peebles at the helm of Baadasssss, the film eschews being an over-the-top melodrama and focuses on one man's dream and the lengths that he had to go to achieve it. What Peebles does in both the script and his direction is that he gets the audience to sympathize with Melvin simply because he believes so much in his project, we are willing to overlook the methods he uses to achieve it.
Baadasssss is a frighteningly accurate film, adapted from a book written by the elder Van Peebles, which is made all the more powerful by its personal connection from son to father. It is a landmark piece of cinema that ranks as one of the best films about the movie business to have ever been released. This is a true gem and anyone with even a remote interest in film history should seek it out.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: Baadasssss boasts one of the best transfers on any release this year with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that is simply eye popping. Colors are rich and lush with absolutely no bleeding evident, and it is safe to say that the early 1970s have never looked this good on DVD. Sharpness and detail are each excellent giving the transfer a very three dimensional feel. This is a top-notch transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is adequate in its construction with much of the activity anchored to the center channel speaker. Dialogue sounds natural throughout with no distortion evident while the surround speakers offer some nice ambient sounds including conversations as well as the extremely entertaining soundtrack. The .1 LFE channel is used nicely to reinforce the songs used in the film while the left and right speakers show off terrific separation.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mario Van Peebles, Melvin Van Peebles
Two documentaries are also offered. The first is a look at the making of the film entitled The Birth of Black Cinema: The Making of Baadasssss and it is easily the best. Featuring interviews with Mario and Melvin as well as Bill Cosby (whose generous donation ensured that the original film got made) and others, and tells a general history of black cinema and specifically Melvin's role, while also showcasing the making of Baadasssss. This is a very interesting piece. The second is The America Cinematheque Conversation with Melvin Van Peebles, which runs just over half an hour and is full of very interesting stories from the legendary filmmaker. He also goes into great detail about film in the 1970s and how he was just one of many directors who shook the system with their vision.
Finally, we have a gallery of poster ideas for the film as well as footage from the premiere and the original theatrical trailer.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsBaadasssss is a powerful piece of filmmaking that ranks amongst the best released this year. It is both frightening and eye-opening in its view of the legendary director Melvin Van Peebles, and his attempt to bring his vision to the screen. Highly recommended.
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