Film-Forward Review: [BAADASSSSS!]

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Directed & Produced by: Mario Van Peebles.
Written by: Mario Van Peebles & Dennis Haggerty, based on the original book by Melvin Van Peebles.
Director of Photography: Robert Primes.
Edited by: Anthony Miller & Nneka Goforth.
Music by: Tyler Bates.
Released by: Sony Pictures Classics.
Country of Origin: USA. 108 min. Rated: R.
With: Marion Van Peebles, Joy Bryant, Ossie Davis, David Alan Grier & Nia Long.

Before moviegoers experienced their first "Spike Lee Joint" or became familiar with the Miramax machine, there was Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, writer and director Melvin Van Peebles' landmark film that broke boundaries to became a legendary hit as the highest grossing independent film of 1971. Ultimately, it helped pave the way for future black independent filmmakers in Hollywood.

After he found success with his racial satire, The Watermelon Man, Melvin Van Peebles was given a three-picture deal with Columbia - something unheard of at the time. Melvin didn't want to make another comedy; he had other plans. His pitch: A black man living in America, Sweetback outsmarts white cops after witnessing a racist attack. He's a sexual dynamo, making love to women of all colors, and becomes a radical hero. When Columbia laughed at his idea, Melvin scrapped and scrounged for every bit of financing he could receive - often coming up empty. He worked through constant setbacks and delays, received death threats and even suffered hysterical blindness in one eye as a result of the stress he was under.

Mario Van Peebles stars as his dad Melvin in Baadasssss! (a.k.a. Getting' the Man's Foot Outta Your Baadasssss!), a reenactment/documentary on the making of SSBS, the basis of Melvin's book of the same name. Shot in digital video, Mario's camera work is vivid, and the editing is sharp with spurts of the original film darting in and out on the screen. Mario holds nothing back in his raw and honest depiction of his father, who sacrifices the well-being of his children for the sake of getting his film made. In an reenactment, Melvin goes so far as to cast a young Mario (played with sincerity and maturity by Khleo Thomas, Holes) in one of the film's more graphic love scenes (Mario was 13 at the time). But through Mario's vision we understand what was behind Melvin's tenacious spirit.

And with this equally graphic and wholly involved retelling by his son, there is bound to be renewed interest in the original film - and its creator. Baadasssss! is more than just a depiction of events that transpired, it's also a love letter, so to speak, from a son who has nothing but respect and admiration for his dad. Tanya Chesterfield (Barnes &
May 28, 2004



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