With no budget, money from friends and drug dealers, and a non-union crew, Melvin created the impossible. He grabbed a hold of an idea and let nothing get in the way from accomplishing it. Melvin had a dream of making an African American the center of the film, one that took no sass from anyone and criticized the modern white Government. While big studios backed away from this project, Melvin jumped forward made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. There were trial and tribulations to get it done, but thanks to a very surprising source the film became a success. It was the first independent film to become the number one film in America.
Similar to the passion seen in Melvin's eyes when he is making his low-budget film, Mario portrays that exact same involvement when making this low-budget film. What I loved about this film is that there is so much raw, unbridled emotion behind Mario's eyes that you can tell that he 1) loves his Dad and 2) wanted to show America the truth behind this innovator's life. This is Mario's past, and he superbly reenacts it on screen. He carries this film, showing us the many facets of his father. He shows the angry American, the independent talent, the powerful leader, and even the emotional parent. Through all of this Mario continues to keep this film focused and interesting. We cannot keep our eyes off his portrayal of his father. I would not be surprised if he is nominated for an Oscar this year.
Finally, this is a very powerful film that speaks about a side of Hollywood that is less known. It shows how the boundaries of racism can be broken with imagination and persistence. It shows that 'all men are created equal' and that if you have a dream you should pursue it. If you are in the process of making your own film and need a movie that will inspire and motivate, this would be the film to watch. From the moment I put this film in my DVD player, I was glued. What a powerful story coupled with interesting actors (Adam West and Sally Struthers) and told with a very realistic voice.
I highly recommend this film.
Mario Van Peebles, Melvin's son, directs an honest and revealing portrait of his pioneering father. Mario now tells the story of the making of Melvin Van Peebles' landmark 1971 film, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," including Melvin's struggles to raise money to fund the film under the guise of creating a black porno film.
Melvin had ducked creditors, the unions and had to bail out his camera crew after they were arrested. Despite death threats and temporarily losing sight in one eye, Melvin somehow managed to whip into shape a rag-tag, multi-racial crew and finish the film that would give birth to birth of a new era which was about to explode: Independent Black Cinema.
Worth a look, hell I would almost recommend watching this one first, just to give you an idea of what you're getting into.
Melvin Van Peebles was the director and star of the film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, so to have his son Mario Van Peebles serve as the director and main actor in BAADASSSSS! makes it a touching piece. And as an avid fan of cinema, BAADASSSSS! interests me because I'm always interested to see a film about the history behind the creation of a film, and when it covers an important film from a historical standpoint, it's just icing on the cake. So BAADASSSSS! sounds exactly like my kind of film.
During the counterculture time frame of the late 1960's and most of the 1970's, a lot of films took different approaches to the concept of defying corruption in justice such as Roman Polanski's Chinatown and Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider. One film which isn't as well known except among the African American community is the film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song which was one of the few films created by and starring African Americans which didn't fall simply into Blaxploitation genre. I didn't realise the importance of it until seeing BAADASSSSS! because that film captured every element of the film's importance and the complicated production of the feature as told with the greatest heart that Mario Van Peebles has as a filmmaker.
BAADASSSSS! has an interesting story to it because as well as analysing the production of a film and just how important it was to its cultural timeframe, and director Mario Van Peebles passionately proves just how important that the film is to him. He is the perfect man for the job as the director of BAADASSSSS! because he has the same filmmaking passion in his loins that Melvin Van Peebles had when he made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. And you can see that he puts quite a bit of emphasis on how the film affected his life by revealing the way that his father sort of forced him into the film and demanded he cut his hair against his will. He doesn't make the film a self-indulgent criticism of his father, but revealed some of the characteristics of his father which were troublesome to him and to the surrounding people during the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. As Mario Van Peebles has a first hand experience with the making of the film and has direct contact with his father who put everything into making the film, Mario Van Peebles has the truth behind the production of the film and without fear, he shows it in BAADASSSSS! Before BAADASSSSS!, I only knew Mario Van Peebles as the bad antagonist from Highlander III: Final Dimension. After seeing BAADASSSSS!, I have an entirely new respect for him as an actor and a filmmaker.
BAADASSSSS! benefits from the best possible direction available to it from Mario Van Peebles, and he keeps it intelligently scripted as well because it captures the natural language from its timeframe as well as a lot of genuine intelligence to it. Frankly its an incredible effort on behalf of him. There is not a more perfect person for the role of director and writer than him, and he proves that because all his knowledge about acting, writing and directing is put into BAADASSSSS!, and the final product is just refreshing. BAADASSSSS! is an example of excellent storytelling, and it shows the endeavour of Mario Van Peebles' many talents.
From a technical perspective, BAADASSSSS! is terrific. It has a lot of artistic cinematography reminiscent of the style of blaxploitation films as well as a lot of camerawork which really depicts the state of mind that Melvin Van Peebles faces as his own personal turmoil comes into conflict with the production of his film. Technically, BAADASSSSS! is brilliant and makes for an intense visual experience from start to finish.
The soundtrack is also really groovy and it captures a lot of the cool tunes that came from the 1970's timeframe that the film is based in.
And on top of all of it, the acting in BAADASSSSS! is thoroughly intelligent, very realistic and captures the timeframe of its setting very well.
Mario Van Peebles' performance as his own father Melvin Van Peebles is the greatest of his career and it is undeniable. Melvin Van Peebles may sound simply like an ambitious filmmaker on the surface, but Mario Van Peebles reveals through an intelligent and excellent performance that he is a lot of things. Melvin Van Peebles is an excellent filmmaker, a man standing for his own rights and the rights of others, and above all a man without fear. And Mario Van Peebles embodies the role of the man, his own father, capturing a sharp and intelligent line delivery with a standover physicality which gives him a convincing strength, the strength to stand up to an unforgiving world and all the adversity that he faces. Frankly, the idea of a man playing his own father is almost too good to be true, and in BAADASSSSS! it is so perfect thanks to the greatest acting performance Mario Van Peebles has ever given.
Rainn Wilson's performance is such an unhinged one. Since I'm used to seeing him as the uptight Dwight Schrute from the US series The Office, it is awesome to see him in the more laid back and open role of Bill Harris because of how in the film he deals with the dramatic plot dynamics in a significantly more realistic and troubled way. Rainn Wilson has such a spaced out persona in BAADASSSSS! without deviating far from his natural and dedicated charisma, and whilst his character is surprising his performance is really not because the man is a great actor. BAADASSSSS! presents a great opportunity to Rainn Wilson, and he takes it by storm without problem.
Joy Bryant's performance manages to prove a lot of what she can do within a very brief screen time, and she faces an interesting role and takes it head on without experiencing any trouble along the way. Joy Bryant is a great addition to the cast of BAADASSSSS!.
David Alan Grier maintains a certain level of confidence and sophistication to him in BAADASSSSS!, and his chemistry with Mario Van Peebles is terrific.
Karimah Westbrook's small role is an effective one as well because it shows off her abilities as an actress as well as her immense sexual appeal.
Ossie Davis and Adam West also give really effective performances which bring in the best of their natural elements as actors and plays it out on the screen one more time. They prove really beneficial to the cast in BAADASSSSS! and deliver their lines with strong charisma.
Lastly, Khleo Thomas' small role as a young Mario Van Peebles was a nice touch because he firmly embodies the man who directed BAADASSSSS! and shares an excellent father-son chemistry with Mario Van Peebles as he plays his own father Melvin Van Peebles.
Quite frankly, BAADASSSSS! is one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen. Not only did it boost my ambitions as a filmmaker, but it provided me a lot of insight into the history of cinema and the incredible talents of Mario Van Peebles, as well as the talents of his own father which he depicted on screen. BAADASSSSS! is an excellently directed and flawlessly acted biopic which features a strong script and incredible dedicated passion from Mario Van Peebles in the best film work of his entire career.