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Melvin Van Peebles (#110 of 4)

Box Office Rap 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

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Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity
Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

When Martin Scorsese takes the time to write a critical piece on legitimating film culture disguised as a reflection on the language of cinema, not only do you read it, but you read it twice for good measure. That’s precisely what happened this past week, as Scorsese joined Steven Soderbergh to deliver the second, excellent “state of cinema” address of 2013. Scorsese’s prose is packed with an expected degree of passion, reverence, and Romanticism, such as when he lovingly calls cinema “the invocation of life…an ongoing dialogue with life,” and on that premise, he laments the decline of cinema associated with cinephilia, a lack of visual literacy being taught in schools, and the rise of box-office culture as “a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment,” where “the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, and the work that’s been created out of seriousness and real passion is lumped together with the work that hasn’t.”

To Scorsese’s claims I say: absolutely. Box office is indeed used as a form of judgment to determine what films audiences are interested in seeing. Thus, studios act accordingly and try to replicate success through like-minded projects with stars that have a proven pedigree. Nevertheless, the cinema, as a form of popular culture has, more or less, always been a democratic medium, contingent on viewers showing up in support. I think of Mario Van Peebles’s Baadasssss! when reading this argument; in that film, Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, whose new film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, is opening in a single Los Angeles theater. A dejected Melvin sits in the theater as no one fills the auditorium on opening night. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and people start flooding in. He’s elated because people want to see his film.

Tribeca Film Festival 2008: Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha

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Tribeca Film Festival 2008: <em>Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2008: <em>Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha</em>

Melvin Van Peebles has handmade a bildungsroman that isn’t merely energetic enough to be called “spry” work for a 75-year-old independent filmmaking legend; Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha is downright effervescent. Celebrated for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Story of a Three-Day Pass, the veteran autodidact has shot a bouncy shadow play with an HD cam, utilizing animation, stock footage, irises, wipes, multi-exposures, split screens, and every other effect in the basic digital book. A knowing, picaresque folktale shot with few attempts to literally represent period (the streets of New York are contemporarily as is, and one character wears a “BAADASSSSS” T-shirt), Mutha has Van Peebles narrating and playing a loose version of himself from age 10 to adulthood, garish in sweater vests, shiny belt buckles, and fiery red pants, an old man re-inhabiting and mythologizing his young life like a nearly-one-man production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. (There is a large cast in small roles, from son Mario to ’60s satirist Paul Krassner, but they’re essentially accessories.)

5 for the Day: Summer

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5 for the Day: Summer
5 for the Day: Summer

Summer’s here, and the time is right for a summary of all things cinematically summery. The living is easy, and our 5 for the day talks movies with central events occurring during the hottest, most nostalgic season of the year. So go out and find a beautiful someone, dance all night (come on, come on) and when you’re done, chime in with your own choices.

1. Meatballs (1979). Summer camp is a rite of passage for some of us, even if mine was just a day camp where I won a prize singing a song about reefer. Ivan Reitman’s Genie-winning (that’s the Canadian Oscar) comedy presented unspoiled pangs of nostalgia mere months before Mrs. Voorhees hacked her way through Camp Crystal Lake. Before his quotable comic brilliance got Lost in Translation, Bill Murray could be counted on to bring a caustic wit and a merry prankster’s glee whenever he appeared onscreen. Though Caddyshack and Ghostbusters linger in more memories, Murray’s debut as Tripper Harrison carries more weight with me because his shtick had the luxury of being fresh. Who knew back then that practically every line Murray spouts from the camp loudspeaker (shades of Altman’s M*A*S*H) would be quotable?

Murray’s performance seemed bused in from another movie, but it keeps Meatballs from becoming too saccharine. His friendship with camper Chris Makepeace is sweet without being gooey, and I can’t help think of this movie whenever someone says “It just doesn’t matter.” In addition to giving Val Kilmer a model to craft his brilliant turn in Real Genius, Meatballs also gave Dr. Pepper jingle singer (and American Werewolf in London star) David Naughton a hideous hit disco song called “Makin’ It.” (Naughton’s “I’m a Pepper” jingle, coincidentally, was the musical basis for my aforementioned award-winning Mary Jane song. “I smoke marijuana dontcha know,” sang 12-year old me, who had no idea what he was singing about. “Wouldn’t you like to be a pothead too?” Snoop Dogg owes me his career.)