Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Drive-In Movie Reviews: Black Caesar (1973) and Cover Me Babe (1970)
BLACK CAESAR (1973)
I've only seen a few vintage "blaxploitation" films, so bear in mind that my POV here is far different from that of devotional (and well-informed) fans who frequent the many websites focusing on this genre, which flourished among 1970's drive-ins.
Watching Black Caesar was of interest to me because it was written, directed and produced by ol' Larry Cohen, just a couple years before his inexplicable masterpiece God Told Me To. If you're unfamiliar with this bugfuggen freakfest, it's basically about an outer space Jesus with a pulsating vagina on his chest...oh, that Larry, madman with a camera.
Casual movie fans will probably know Cohen best for It's Alive and the one with the city-dwelling dragon, Q.
Right from the start, the music in Black Caesar is top notch! Mainly James Brown, but there's also a cool female-fronted song a girl performs while former athlete Fred Williamson shoots up a room fulla white folks.
Williamson is probably the only good actor in the whole film, but who can read Larry Cohen's dialogue, in any movie, and come off sounding "normal." All his movies have such cartoony dialogue, but that's part of the charm of his stuff (other than Q and a coupla others just too awful to recall).
Most of the characters are hollow and soul-less anyway, so the junior high acting doesn't distract. Williamson is good enough to make up for the others.
I really didn't know what to expect going into it, so it was pretty astonishing to see Williamson smear shoe polish on a guy and make him sing "Mammy"!! A Larry Cohen moment I'll certainly never forget --
Despite all the grindhouse schlock -- much of which I love! -- there's a solid little story. The scenes with Williamson breaking his mom's heart and then facing off with his neglectful dad shows Cohen was going for more than machine guns and chase scenes. And, again, the music -- wow! Even the most incidental bits of background music are smokin', and perfectly suited to the frequent NYC exteriors.
So now I've seen three or four blaxploitation flicks, and part of one other, Scream Blackula Scream, which was so bad that it caused me actual physical pain, so I shut it off...(for some reason, I can't handle anything with VooDoo, it freaks me out with all the animal mutilation and stuff, hence me never seeing Angel Heart, Serpent and the Rainbow, etc).
So far, Black Caesar is the best I've seen of this genre --
COVER ME BABE (1970)
Recently, FMC showed Cover Me Babe -- released in 1970, it's got Robert Forster as a student filmmaker, who's obsessed with the idea that "reality" might be more interesting than scripted productions. Especially seedy, sordid reality.
He's inspired by the Lee Harvey Oswald shooting that was broadcast live on TV. His big idea is, essentially, reality TV! He tells his film teacher about how someday people's real lives will be filmed, and viewers will come to prefer it over anything scripted - very prophetic!
A better movie than I expected, and apparently rarely seen, especially on TV -- this version seemed uncut, with nudity intact.
It's not worth any great expense or effort to seek, but fine as an easy diversion - interesting and prophetic, but by no mean a great movie. I can see why it was despised in 1970 -- it's (slight) value as a cinematic artifact is achieved by it being almost 40 years later now, and how eerily the film predicted the rise of "reality" entertainment.
The very same things that Forster's lead character is hated for screening, those things now win awards and accolades and movie/TV career contracts.
Forster's performance is metallic, rendering him more unlikable than any film character I can think of outside the a-hole principal in Animal House -- and at least HE was funny!
So it's a curio at best, but with out-there and ultimately accurate ideas about media and pop culture, the kind of thing film buffs can appreciate. And (very) young Sondra Locke really isn't bad as one of Forster's long-suffering girlfriends, even tho there's never the slightest indication why she'd put up with his vidiot/savant personality --
"Field Of Screens" -- Cover story 7-6-06: Complete theater-by-theater history of San Diego drive-ins thru the years, including interviews with operators and attendees, dozens of rare and unpublished photos, vintage local theater ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Before It Was The Gaslamp: Balboa's Last Stand" -- Cover story 6-21-07: In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked at downtown San Diego's grindhouse all-night movie theaters. This detailed feature recalls those dayz, the death of the Balboa Theatre, etc., including interviews with operators, vintage local movie ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Pussycat Theaters: When 'Cathouses Ruled California" -- for the first time, the inside story of the west coast Pussycat Theater chain of adult moviehouses, which peaked in the '70s but later died out. Company head Vince Miranda owned and lived part time at the Hotel San Diego, operating several other local theaters downtown and in Oceanside, Escondido, etc. Told by those who actually ran the theaters, with a complete theater-by-theater encyclopedia covering every Pussycat that ever screened in CA -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
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