Bad Movies We Love: Dolemite
Black Dynamite pimp rolls into theaters this week, being a hugely affectionate homage to -- and parody of -- the blaxploitation era in which coats were fur and floor-length, foxy mamas supplied the lovin' between supplyin' the cash by turning tricks, and The Man and his corrupt cop minions were always on a collision course with a kung-fu ass-whuppin'. Scott Sanders and Michael Jai White's pitch-perfect recreation of such mid-1970s adventures draws on many sources, from Superfly to The Mack, but it also owes a sizeable debt to the first movie vehicle for Rudy Ray Moore, 1975's Dolemite.
Moore, who had come up in the 1950s as a minor R&B singer (and the first anniversary of whose death arrives Monday), based his most famous character on a comic tall-tale "toast" about a mean mother called "Dolemite" that he heard told by a Hollywood wino named Rico. Moore combined his talent for music with his own comic and profanity-laden versions of traditional African-American toasts, such as "Great Titanic" and "The Signifying Monkey," and became one of the first popular stand-ups known mostly for X-rated material. In 1970, his first album, Eat Out More Often, which featured the "Dolemite" riff, became the first of his several "party albums" to hit the Billboard charts. His recording style and success mean that he's widely credited as being the true "Godfather of Rap".
In 1974, when blaxploitation was at its peak, Moore invested $100,000 of his own money to put his swaggering pimp and bad-ass mofo Dolemite to the big screen.To say the results were professional would be as disingenous as trying to assert that its leading man was a natural actor or some kind of kung-fu master. Moore is top-billed, for instance, but after him, intruding boom mics may have more screen time than any other supporting character. The sound man actually makes an appearance at the bottom of the screen when Dolemite raps with a small-time junkie called the Hamburger Pimp (classic line: "I'm so bad, I kick my own ass twice a day!"). Weirdly, given that sometimes the actors are crowded by mics coming at them from the bottom and top of frame at once, the sound's still out of sync in places.
Visually, things aren't much better. Whenever a location isn't already decked out with period velour wallpaper and chandeliers, such as in scenes in a hospital or warden's office, the sets become a bare minimum of desks, wood paneling and noticeably empty noticeboards and bookless bookshelves. Despite several martial artists credited with helping out, most of the fight scenes are definitely kung-faux, with a lot of daylight between the fists of fury and their intended victims. D'urville Martin's direction often defines static, with the camera seemingly just left to run on a high shelf during one kitchen-set fight set-up.
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