Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blaxploitation in the Basement

Growing up a middle class kid in the suburbs with enough money to get by but not enough to really spend on anything interesting, my weekends were filled by long walks with friends, atrocious pickup basketball, and Blaxploitation cinema.

Like so many of the things that I was interested in while in high school, I didn't realize until years later that most kids my age didn't posses my deep and abiding love for the 70's Blaxploitation era. They weren't interested in debating who was the greater star, Richard Roundtree or Rudy Ray Moore. They weren't calling themselves by nicknames like "Shaft" in middle school. And, this one is the hardest to believe, they weren't having long, complicated fantasies involving Pam Grier! Crazy...

For whatever reason, we almost always watched these movies in our friend Chris's basement. The FAYGO Red Pop (or, alternately, Rock n' Rye) flowed like wine. Although we generally stuck with black cinema of the early 70's, it was not uncommon for another later 70's film(such as a Zucker Brothers film like Kentucky Fried Movie) to slip in as well.

The personal highlight for me would have to be watching Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law.

A very difficult to explain movie, all I will say is that it prominently involves the devil, over-the-top slapstick comedy, and, without a doubt, the worst martial arts ever recorded on film. I will never lose the mental image of my friend Todd repeatedly falling to the floor, crying with laughter, during various scenes.

While its debatable whether we really "got" what was going on in the films, our joy and appreciation was certainly genuine. They were too dated and anachronistic to make us as feel as though we were doing the equivalent of co-opting hip-hop. Plus, we were too young to understand the political implications of the films. What we were, was a bunch of dumb white kids who stumbled into a world of cool far, far removed from any we had met before.

It would be impossible for me now to watch one of those films without thinking of a hundred different meta-questions about the genre and what it stood for cinematically, racially, and even in its generally cringe-inducing depiction of women. Still, the "Blaxploitation in the Basement" era is a nice reminder of a time when I had the luxury of enjoying a movie without a hint of self-consciousness or nostalgia or political concerns clouding the experience.

Oh yeah, and the music fucking ruled.

1 comment:

todd said...

"Get over here, boy, and let me comb that nappy hair of yours."

That is still quite possibly one of the best lines of dialogue ever uttered in the moving pictures. And the very real tears that follow are just as precious.

Thanks for the shout out, Josh. You've even inspired me to jump on the Wheatstraw bandwagon at WRB.