So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!
I could summarise this film of reworking the title as Sweet Sweetback’s Bad Movie. However, I can’t just leave it there now can I? After all, I watched the damn thing so whilst this may not be the longest review I have dictated hopefully it will still have some meaning to it.
It is one of those films that made it into the 1001 book not because of merit, but because of influence. The year is 1971 and here we have a film that is aimed at being a revolutionary film that champions the black struggle in America. What is interesting is that amongst the community opinion was very much split on the “revolutionary” aspect.
I would argue that rather being revolutionary it is romanticising the struggle. Something that critics said at the time. The whole premise relies on a black man being able to defeat “the man” through the use of his large penis. I’m grossly over-simplifying things here that this film has all the subtlety of a siren.
One scene that made me cringe was right at the beginning where we essentially watch a grown prostitute taking advantage of a 13 year old boy. Oh and, obviously, we actually see this in full softcore glory. I hope that the view from behind was only “stunt butt” otherwise… I don’t really want to think about what I actually saw.
Now, let’s look at some positives. The way that the film was cut was quite revolutionary at the time. As such it has inspired quite a lot of films that followed. It also gave rise to a lot of the tropes that became part of future blaxploitation films. Personally I did not think much of the soundtrack but I can see its merits.
The big thing that is praiseworthy is how this film was able to influence so many black filmmakers that followed. Whilst I think films like Do the Right Thing actually did a better job we are already talking about 20 years of further element in the film industry.
So many is fair to say – this film is not made for me. That’s fine. Is it is like how many LGBT films are not made for a straight audience. That’s fine too.
It made sense to pair up these films since they are both influential examples of African-American direction. Within our gates is actually the oldest surviving film by an African-American director and it was almost lost thanks to the censors. Praise be to Madrid for still having a copy of this.
Having such an old film depicting a black point of view means we have access to an invaluable time capsule. We have so many white views of this period, and of every other period, which ends up making this all the more important.
As films go is actually pretty standard, it follows normal rules of filmmaking and there are no revolutionary technological or storytelling leaps. It’s the perspective that matters. Another film you could pair this with is of Birth Of A Nation. It isn’t until the last 10 to 15 minutes that this comparison holds water. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that this film ends with scenes depicting why people raping and lynching black people.
I can see why this film would hit nerves with the predominantly white cinema going audience. No one likes seeing the savagery of their race laid bare. However, in general the scenes of white domination feel more naturalistic here than in modern cinema. It’s not about shock, it’s about truth. Why this truth is still not being listened to is a true failing. The film ends on the patriotic note and this rings false, but I think that was the director still trying to show the commonalities that bind Americans together despite how they are born.