Van Peeble’s new work is one ‘Baadasssss’ film

    What a sweet and endearing film “Baadasssss” is. It reads like a heartfelt prayer, genuine in its unflinching truthfulness, delivered by a son to his father in anxious tones. And it quite literally is. In the film, actor/director Mario Van Peebles pays homage dually to his own actor/director father Melvin Van Peebles by assuming the lead character of his dad and directing “Baadasssss” itself. When watching the Melvin-based character launch into fits of invariable and violent frustration, it’s both depressing and touching to know that Mario has had first-hand experience with his father’s own sturm and drang. The film watches a terrifying and stern Melvin stumbling through the production of the 1971 original and canonical “blaxploitation” film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” With a startling vision of a film, in which the stars are “Bruthas and Sistahs,” blacks aren’t reduced to laughable sidekicks, and seething racial tension explodes in rebellion. Melvin Van Peebles pursued the completion of “Sweetback” with a great amount of difficulty. He pushes everyone, including financiers, friends and family to the point that he appears a sadistic tyrant, obsessed with the seemingly quixotic completion of the film. In one particular scene, he decides it is best to let his film crew stew in jail for a weekend rather than risk ruining the filming schedule. In another, he rigidly demands that his pre-pubescent son, Mario, have sex with a prostitute for the opening sequence of “Sweetback.”

    As a kind of faux documentary about the making of “Sweetback,” with interviews from the actors and clips of the original film, “Baadasssss” is full of charming and engaging anecdotes. It’s funny to see Melvin chance upon burgeoning funk royalty Earth, Wind and Fire only because Melvin’s secretary, Patricia, is the girlfriend of one of the band members. And sometimes it’s not so funny, such as when Melvin starts losing sight in his left eye in the midst of editing “Sweetback.” With such telescopic specificity and detail in recounting the struggling production of “Sweetback,” “Baadasssss” is fascinating for its documentary worth. While the humorous and wistful accounts are interesting enough as documentary, the film is still dramatic fiction. Sure, there are points in the film that stack emotion and sentimentality thicker than a ham sandwich, but it’s forgivable. At these moments, one can almost hear Mario Van

    Peebles whispering to the audience, “Hey, that’s my Dad!” Cutely, it’s almost as if these scenes were tailored purely for the personal affection of the son for the father. “Baadasssss” is a very good film in the respect that it honors one of the most underrated and important directors in American cinema in such a flattering and individual gesture. Like his father, who fought doggedly to finally make a film in devotion to the “black community,” Mario Van Peebles has made a film of pure love.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal