Author Topic: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons  (Read 31262 times)

etdoesgood

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #640 on: November 02, 2020, 02:56:27 AM »
Great awards on the Iranian films. Those were just some overall great selections, even the ones I haven't yet seen seem like must-watches.

I'll definitely be following this blaxploitation hard since some of these are going to come up in my own Black canon marathon.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #641 on: November 02, 2020, 03:08:27 PM »
Super Fly (Gordon Parks, Jr., 1972)



Adam & Josh's takes (starts at 41:15)

The first thing that anyone must talk about with this film is obviously the Curtis Mayfield soundtrack. It's great. It elevates the film significantly, and Parks Jr.* is obviously quite aware of it, dedicating a whole scene in the middle to Curtis Mayfield singing in a club the characters are at, and generally getting massive mileage from the music, especially Pusherman. But I agree with Adam & Josh (and disagree with most people, apparently) that the film lives up to it. This is a soulful film, which examines a character who has elevated himself in the only way he knew how (through a life of crime) and finds himself stuck and unsatisfied. Priest is a complex character who the film doesn't glorify or demonize (though it does highlight how cool his car is). He is a sympathetic figure, clearly, and Parks Jr. doesn't want us to think too much of the consequences of his involvment in the drug trade and at one time even attempt to somewhat absolve him of involvment in proxenetism, but he's not the aspirational figure that Shaft was, not in an uncomplicated manner anyway, which is absolutely key.

This is a grimy and at times desperate depiction of Harlem as a place where the biggest success you can achieve still makes you a subordinate to "the man". You still have that wish-fulfillment escapism in that the whole plot is about escaping that, but there is a mournful quality to the film in general and Ron O'Neal's performance's in particular. It's not just him though, the speech his partner gives about their situation being the American Dream is the kind of nuance brought to a character who ends up more or less as a villain that you wouldn't expect from an exploitation film. In fact, the only scene here that really feels like it marks the film as exploitation is that bathtub sex scene, and even that is considerably more artful than it has any right to be. There's generally a consistency of tone and style here that surprised me, and all of it is anchored by O'Neal's performance.

Tarantino came to mind often here, though (unlike others in this marathon), this film does not make his "Coolest Movies" list. It's striking to me to find those qualities in those films that he took inspiration from, especially in the use of music but also in the willingness to experiment stylistically. The aforementioned bathtub scenes and the drug-selling stills montage jump to mind in particular, there is a real artistic vision here, and the result is a thoughtful character study in a lived-in environment, backed up by an iconic score.

8/10

*Kinda crazy to have a father-son combo in a marathon, with films separated only by one year
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #642 on: November 05, 2020, 10:11:11 AM »
Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973)



Adam & Josh's takes (starts at 41:15)

Adam beat me to the punch by observing that this really puts the "exploitation" in Blaxploitation, to the point that I retrospectively wonder if that term should apply at all to Shaft and Super Fly, which seem both like pretty maintream films that simply happen to be targeted at a black audience. This, however, is exploitation cinema, there's no doubt about it. And like Adam & Josh, I find that this is mostly something that holds the film back. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the political message here is mere posturing, because I do think that there's a lot here that's powerful, especially in those opening and final scenes in Coffy the character subverting what's expected of her as a black woman... but the film is absolutely trying to have its cake and eat it too. It pretty consistently uses topless women for titillation, including Grier herself, which makes its female empowermentaspects muddier than they might otherwise.

Where I disagree with Adam & Josh however, is where Pam Grier's performance is concerned. Not that I think it's flawless or perfect (that Jamaican accent is... rough), but she carries the film over the line for me in her embodiment of that character's struggle. In the final scene, there's genuine hurt atthe betrayal, not just mindless revenge. It's a tragic ending rather than a triumphant one, and that's because she brings more complexity to the scene than perhaps might have been on the page. The opening, on the other hand, is pure exploitation in the best way, setting up a familiar situation where a female character is using her sexuality in a way that is titillating for both the viewer and the characters... only to violently turn it on its head. That's the one instance where the film fully makes the balance work, because it seems to be commenting more than, well, exploiting. That it doesn't manage to strike that balance throughout is a huge problem, but it's still an overall striking film in its bluntness, and that ending is powerful despite everything.

6/10
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #643 on: November 09, 2020, 03:18:18 AM »
Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, 1973)



Adam & Josh's takes (starts at 54:10)

This is filled to the brim with great cinematic ideas, but lacks the cohesive tissue to make them land. Obviously indepted to 1930s gangster flicks* and in some ways ahead of Scorsese's own modern takes on the genre, such as a montage of people being killed at the main character's behest which, though nowhere close in terms of style and vision to the Layla scene in Goodfellas, does resemble it in some ways. The ending is another one of those touches that kept bringing me back in, and there really are many moments like that in the film, but it's just missing basic foundations.

The narrative is your basic rise and fall of a gangster kind of thing (which is not something I tend to love), but Fred Williamson in the main role is completely unlikable throughout, impossible to root for even... and I just don't think the film is really aware of that. I think we're meant to be conflicted about him (see also: Super Fly), but there's really no conflict to be had. Yes, he gets beat up by a cop early on, but that alone does not justify being a cold killer and rapist, who's mostly interested in the trappings of power and inverting every symbol of oppression he's ever experienced. That, again, allows for striking scenes, but it feels like we're indulging this character's power fantasy more than examining it at times.

What I'm left with is with a bit of a mess. A film I find objectionable, but in some ways remarkable. Individual scenes feel like they should be celebrated more, but the structure as a whole is uninspired and sometimes incoherent. Once again, we get a great score (this time by James Brown) to accompany it all, though it's not used as effectively as one could hope. In the end, it's an interesting but not really successful exercise in transposing the 30s gangster model to 70s Harlem.

5/10

*I haven't seen Little Caesar, so I don't know how indebted it might be to that one in particular
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #644 on: November 10, 2020, 09:49:17 AM »
Cooley High (Michael Schultz, 1975)



Adam & Josh's takes (starts at 39:32)

Back into the "not actually exploitation at all" part of this Blaxploitation marathon, as this is essentially American Graffiti for, with, and by black people. I can't compare the two more as I'm not entirely sure whether or not I've even seen American Graffiti, but the point is that this is a very recognizable coming of age film with an ensemble of characters, except this is set in Chicago housing projects. And it has all the hallmarks of this type of film: a soundtrack filled with recognizable tunes from the time (mid-60s), a strong ensemble cast with endearing and charismatic leads, a lot of comedy early before some more dramatic turns and an overall nostalgic outlook on the potential of youth, wasted or not.

What gives this all extra weight, of course, is that we don't get as many of those centered on black communities, and there is plenty that is quite specific here as well. Schultz uses this particular space quite well, with that opening introduction where we travel from the centre of Chicago to where the action will take place, and the way this group of friends uses various means of transportation while playing hooky; it all feels quite lived-in. The main character, whom I assume to be autobiographical, also doesn't fit a neat archetype. Well, he is the smart kid who is in danger of wasting his potential I suppose, but he's also very confident and charismatic, and the romantic subplot is surprisingly straightforward and doesn't take over the film, which is definitely from a male perspective through and through. Glynn Turman (who felt very familiar to me, because of course he was on The Wire as the mayor of Baltimore, of course) is really good in the lead role, charismatic enough that you're always rooting for him but also able to let the character's faults be an integral part of who he is.

The film manages its quite dramatic late turns pretty well. What happens there is quite sudden, but that also feels pointed. As Josh mentions, these characters just don't have as much leeway as their white counterparts do, a single bad decision may be enough to screw them over pretty thoroughly. What ultimately really makes this work though, is the speech Turman gives near the end, which embodies the film's spirit of liveliness and vitality in the face of adversity, which makes it an endearing and at times even powerful coming of age dramedy.

7/10
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Dave the Necrobumper

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #645 on: November 10, 2020, 04:37:12 PM »
I watched Cooley High a few months ago and your comment about an autobiographical feel to the main character puts words to something I felt.

Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #646 on: November 11, 2020, 09:33:45 AM »
Ganja & Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973)



Adam & Josh's takes (starts at 36:48)

I'm truly struggling with what "Blaxploitation" is supposed to mean at this point. This marathon has genuine exploitation films, regular mainstream entertainment, an indie film and now, a fll-on arthouse film. Yes, it's also a horror film about vampires, which does sound exploitation adjacent, but the style and tone here are distinctly intellectual, ethereal and certainy not in any way commercial. Like Black Caesar, this film feels like it has ambition beyond its means, and it is a sometimes inscrutable, generally boring but occasionnally chilling and intriguing watch.

Part of what makes the film such a mess is that it seems to be using vampirism as a metaphor for a number of different things. There's drug addiction, which is perhaps the most obvious aspect and perhaps explain some of the stylistic choices (it sure feels like an acid trip at times), but if this were an allegory about the scourge of drugs, it surely wouldn't star these affluent characters. Instead, it harkens back to a mysterious African tribe of blood suckers and mixes that with/against Christianity in what is, to me, the most interesting avenue the film explores. The idea of ancient tribal customs being repurposed and/or opposed by the Church is a pretty well-documented one, and could be fodder for some thoughtful, trippy horror, and there are individual scenes here in which this film does get there, mostly those featuring Marlene Clark.

Clark has an energy that matches the film's, weird and tortured. Contrast with Duane Jones (of Night of the Living Dead fame) who's just kinda there. When the film focuses on Clark, it almost seems to start making sense and to build up to something mystical about the roots of African-American identity, with vampirism perhaps having something to do with the African slavers (sucking on the blood of their own?) selling one's ancestors to European slavers (hence all the Christianity?)... but this never really coalesces, and feels a bit more like me projecting something I'd be interested in onto the film than anything else.

Some of it does work aesthetically, like that creepy musical cue whenever a character gets an urge for blood, and the graininess of the film which feels very appropriate for a mystical horror film like this, but it's mostly incomprehensible and it's hard to stay engaged with it most of the time, so it ends up mostly seeming like a failed experiment. Not the worse thing a film can be, but still.

4/10
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #647 on: November 11, 2020, 09:57:37 AM »
The Mayfields (Blaxploitation Awards)

In the same order as the podcast (starts at 46:57)

Best Music: Curtis Mayfield (Super Fly)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGb0C3T0WJY

Best Supporting Performance: Moses Gunn (Shaft)



Best Lead Performance: Glynn Turman (Cooley High)



Best "Stick it to the Man" Moment: Getting the dealer/Opening (Coffy)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRRY7zgE4K8

Best Moment/Scene: The American Dream (Super Fly)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tY8_miMc8go

Best Picture: Super Fly



Summary/ranking

Super Fly (Gordon Parks Jr., 1972)
Cooley High (Michael Schultz 1975)
Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971)
Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973)
Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, 1973)
Ganja & Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973)


Next up, Marx Brothers! But probably not before 2021.
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1SO

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #648 on: November 11, 2020, 10:46:55 AM »
This Marathon happened fast. I barely had time to keep up with the reviews, and I read EVERYTHING (except some of the political arguments.)

I wanted to pass on to you that the podcast Unspooled with Amy Nicholson and Paul Scheer recently covered Ganja & Hess. It's a movie I couldn't wait to be done with while watching it, but after listening to them I watched it again. Still not a fan, but a much better appreciation of what the film was doing and more confidence in the direction coming from an artistic place and not an amateurish one.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #649 on: November 11, 2020, 11:32:03 AM »
This Marathon happened fast. I barely had time to keep up with the reviews, and I read EVERYTHING (except some of the political arguments.)

I wanted to pass on to you that the podcast Unspooled with Amy Nicholson and Paul Scheer recently covered Ganja & Hess. It's a movie I couldn't wait to be done with while watching it, but after listening to them I watched it again. Still not a fan, but a much better appreciation of what the film was doing and more confidence in the direction coming from an artistic place and not an amateurish one.

Yeah, I've been really enjoying listening to the podcast and doing this again, but I'll be focusing on other things in the next month or so. I'm familiar with Unspooled... gave up on it because I didn't find them all that insightful generally, but I'll give that episode a listen since you recommend it.
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