Iconic

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 8, 2010 by blax

This new documentary from director/personal friend Tamra Davis looks like the real deal. Comprised of never before seen interviews and film footage, its a must see for Basquiat stans and lovers of the bygone days of the Lower East Side’s burnt out buildings, detritus and spontaneous creativity. Shot two years prior to his death in 1988, its a glimpse into past while pointing to the future. Search it out.

Amiri Baraka’s (LeRoi Jones) Dutchman (1964)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 9, 2009 by blax

Dutchman

This original printing of Amiri Baraka’s (when he was still called LeRoi Jones) hit off Broadway play was another thirft store score of mine.  Dutchman is the story of a young, well dressed Black man who has an (un)fortunate encounter with a provocative and seductive young White woman. Set in a hot subway car, this racial drama speaks on the danger that lurks beneath our civilized society. Seduced intellectually and psychically, the play speaks to the dual nature that lives beneath the surface of a brother posited between two worlds. There was a revival a few years ago in the same space (The Cherry Lane Theater)  in which it premiered over 40 years ago. Somewhat heavy handed yet still powerful, Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman still titillates and challenges.

Ganja and Hess (1973)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 9, 2009 by blax

 How did I discover Ganja and Hess? Early on, the title captivated me. Ganja and Hess? What was it all about? What a strange title for a blaxploitation film; it didn’t even have the word “Black” in it! I had forgotten about the film for a while and then, oddly enough, an episode of The Cosby Show (like you’ve never watched it) reintroduced me to the film’s director, Bill Gunn. It turns out he had a recurring role on the show as one of Cliff Huxtable’s poker buddies. So, Bill Gunn was a Black actor who directed a “blaxploitation” film in the early 1970s. I began reading more and more about the film and discovered it had at least five titles. I began searching under the various titles (Black Evil, Black Out, Black Vampire, etc) and came up empty-handed. While browsing for DVDs and not looking for anything in particular, a strange image appeared in my peripheral vision. As I moved closer to examine the artwork, I discovered the picture was dominated by one large face with smaller images concentrated around it. An African woman, a conjurer, lurked on the bottom of the image focused on her magic. This was Ganja and Hess! If the cover was any indication (as you dusty-fingered fellows have yourselves experienced), I was in for a treat.

To read the entire essay check:http://waxpoetics.com/issues/issue_7/

Miles and McQueen

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 21, 2009 by blax

milesandmcqueen

The essence of sartorial splendor, 1960s era Miles Davis and Steve McQueen are effortlessly cool. Bloggers, hipsters and Japanese “trendsetters” take note.

Aaron Loves Angela (1975)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 21, 2009 by blax

aaronlovesangela

One simple statement can be definitively made about this film: it is one of the best teen oriented films of the Blaxploitation genre. Take into account that it was made after the “golden years” of the era (1969- 1974) and was the last film directed by Gordon Parks Jr. (Superfly, Three the Hard Way) and it becomes even more astounding.

 

Set mostly in Spanish Harlem, Aaron loves Angela reads like a contemporary Romeo and Juliet without the modern cliché of us against them. Gordon Parks Jr.’s expert direction paints a vivid picture of the hardship faced by youth in the New York’s urban jungles. Hard times call for desparate measures seems to be the unspoken mantra of the film. Kevin Hooks (Sounder) plays Aaron, a black teenager searching for his own space in the world despite the pull of outside forces. Angela is played by the lovely Irene Cara (Sparkle, Fame) a Puerto Rican girl who loves Aaron despite what that could mean for the couple. The onscreen chemistry between the two is undeniable and Kevin Hooks particularly engaging. The fine cast is rounded out by Moses Gunn as Aaron ex-football player boozing father and Ernestine Jackson as a hooker who is more than willing to take Aaron under her coital wing. Add Jose Feliciano’s soundtrack to the mix then stir and you have one of the tastiest yet rarely savored film of the Blaxploitation canon. The most underrated of Gordon Parks Jr.’s work, it’s a hidden gem worthy of excavation.

The Final Comedown (1972)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 29, 2009 by blax

blastakafinalcomedown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never thought of Mr. Billy Dee Williams as a particularly shrewd actor. Sure, I’ve enjoyed many of his film roles and, in particular, the suave P.I.M.P. he portrayed in those Colt 45 commercials of my impressionable youth. But I discovered that following his big break in the acclaimed television biopic Brian’s Song (1971), he dipped his toe in the sometimes tepid pool that was Blaxploitation. Produced by Billy Dee Williams Enterprises, the film was a low budget yet conscious attempt to avoid the one-dimensional parody which would come to define the Blaxploitation genre. Based on Jimmy Garrett’s seminal Black Arts Movement play, We Own the Night (1968), The Final Comedown (1972) is a complex narrative told via flashback.

Billy Dee Williams is Johnny Johnson, an intelligent yet angry young brotha caught between the racism’s rock and a hard place in the ghetto. Johnny and his crew of devoted revolutionaries are engaged in a furious gun battle with the cops and guerilla warfare has erupted in the streets of sunny L.A. From the opening frame, we soon realize this may be an exercise in futility.  

Through the use of flashback, we see Johnny become more radical and witness the revolutionary mind take shape in an interesting and unpredictable fashion. In one scene, Johnny recalls when he went to apply for a job, even after being slightly discouraged by his main man Billy Joe Ashley (played by the late Blaxploitation stalwart D’Urville Martin) for being a “good American”. He goes in and is told by his interviewer that he has indeed secured himself a job. As she goes over the insurance plan, her supervisor walks out and then calls her into his office. It seems as if the position is “no longer available”. Johnny is visibly disturbed and is pushed closer to the point of no return.

director Jamaa Fanaka

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 2, 2009 by blax
Jamaa Fanaka with Robert Deniro (1980)

Robert Deniro and Jamaa Fanaka clubbing in 1980

Probably best known for the 1979 prison noir film, Peniteniery, director Jamaa Fanaka made 2 incredible films (Emma Mae (1975) and Welcome Home,Brother Charles (1976)) while he was still a film student at UCLA. Thankful for the Blaxploitation film boom but looking to break out of the structural and narrative confines of the genre, Fanaka’s films spoke to the universality of the human experience and the nature of myth. After interviewing him, I felt I had just scratched the surface with this underappreciated auteur. You can find the interview here: http://waxpoetics.com/issues/issue_32/