Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Dolemite: A Total...Experience

On the opening track of Rudy Ray Moore's 1970 album "Eat Out More Often", he sings about a character called Willie Green, and a "bad motherfucker" called Dolemite. From these humble (and hilarious) beginnings, the character of Dolemite was born. In 1974 Rudy decided to make the transition from stage to screen, and decided to gather friends together to make Dolemite. Rudy did not direct, but instead enlisted D'Urville Martin (who also played Willie Green) who had some mainstream experience acting in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Rosemary's Baby. However that Hollywood background is not particularly clear here-this is clearly the work of enthusiastic amateurs, but is all the more brilliant for it.
Vinegar Syndrome are kind enough to provide two versions of the film, the original widescreen version, and a full-frame version which allows the production to look even more amateurish as it is the "boom mic" version, which speaks for itself. The disc comes packed with extras, more on which later...
The film itself (which has a stunning transfer) opens in prison, with two flashbacks- one of which having a "wobbly screen" dream, the other just simply cuts to the action. But what action! If you want to see wooden acting FBI agents beaten into the trunk of a car, this film is for you. After the dust settles we realise that Queen Bee has provided evidence to suggest Dolemite was originally framed, but he will have to go out into society to prove his innocence. Quite a spectacular decision by the prison authorities there. This is then coupled with the warden stating "only four people know you are going to be released" followed 30 seconds later by Queen Bee exclaiming that "she can't wait to tell everyone that Dolemite is going to be released". Clearly she wasn't listening.
Just in case you had any concerns about the quality of the film, you next have THE BEST TITLE SEQUENCE EVER. Seriously. The music is breathtaking, the colours Funkadelic, and it appears to be framed by shots of Dolemite's orgasm face at the start, followed by his post-orgasm face at the end. Unintentional? Probably, but beautiful all the same.
Once Dolemite gets back to being a pimp, he discovers the "Dolemite Girls" have all been trained in karate (at the CHUCK NORRIS KARATE STUDIO we later find out). He then sets off to find out who killed Little Jimmy, with his harem of martial arts trained prostitutes to aid him. Along the way we have some wonderful scenes, but I'm not going to describe them- much of the fun of this movie is finding out what mad ideas the team have dreamt up.
There is a vague attempt to make the plot mirror contemporary events by referencing Watergate (although by the time of the film's release Nixon was already out of office, so it dates the filming to before August 1974) and having a white mayor behaving in a rather Watergate manner- did I detect a "deep throat" voice on the phone there? Considering Tom Bradley was mayor of LA at this time, is this a conscious decision to emulate the "white vs black" trope of many blaxploitation films, showing how Dolemite is the hero against corrupt white authority? But hey man, I'm getting too heavy- this is a film to enjoy the surface of. The dialogue is perfection "rat soup eating honky mother-fucker", the 70s outfits are wonderful, and the decor...the hairstyles...what can be said?
All in all the film itself is probably the most fun Blaxploitation movie I've seen since Detroit 9000, and would be a fantastic double-bill with Massacre Mafia Style, a film which shares many similarities.
The last words of the film are "Just as my name is Dolemite, I shall return"...and thank God he did.

So onto the extras...aside from the aforementioned alternative version, there is a 25 minute documentary on the making of the movie, with a lot of interview material with the man himself, and provides a great background to the movie and his career. There is a highly informative commentary from Rudy Ray Moore's biographer Mark Jason Murray. As with most commentaries, it can't help but cross over some of the information found in the documentary, but delves into more detail. It's slightly on the dry side, especially with the fun visuals (this film cries out for a "Hysteria Continues" style track). This is followed with an interview with Lady Reed (Queen Bee) surrounded by her albums that she released with Rudy. She shares many fond memories of Rudy and talks about what it was like being on the road. There is then a short locations featurette and some glorious trailers. The only thing missing to make this feel like a Criterion/Masters of Cinema disc is a booklet with contemporary reviews/adverts; but this feels like a package made with true love for the film.

So, why are you still reading this? This movie is essential. Buy it here, now: