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Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song [1971] [DVD]

Melvin Van Peebles , Simon Chuckster , Melvin Van Peebles    Suitable for 18 years and over   DVD
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 7.54 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song [1971] [DVD] + Shaft [DVD] [1971] + Across 110th Street [DVD]
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Product details

  • Actors: Melvin Van Peebles, Simon Chuckster, Hubert Scales, John Dullaghan, West Gale
  • Directors: Melvin Van Peebles
  • Format: PAL
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 18
  • Studio: Bfi
  • DVD Release Date: 28 Nov 2005
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 20,561 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Product Description

A film by Melvin Van Peebles

Having learned the ways of the world being brought up in a brothel, street hustler Sweetback has earned his name through his legendary sexual prowess, cementing his reputation night after night to an audience of hopheads and hipsters hungry for spectacle.

One night on a routine cover-up job with two crooked cops, Sweetback watches a young black man get beaten within an inch of his life and decides to fight back. His action set in motion a journey through the dark heart of 1970s urban America still writhing in the flames of the race riots, encountering motorcycle gangs, back power militants, fascist public officials and a torrent of insatiable women every step of the way.

Conceived and directed by its star Melvin Van Peebles, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song has a distinctive gritty style in keeping with the independent spirit of the times, combining the streetwise realism of Paul Morrissey with the sexual hysteria of Russ Meyer. A brash depiction of urban African American life previously unseen on the screen, its political resonance was confirmed in the Black Panthers' vocal acclaim of the film.

This controversial classic of Black Cinema and independent filmmaking was one of the most successful films of its time and is justly credited with kick-starting the Blaxploitation genre.

The Real Deal: a 30 minute documentary on Melvin Van Peebles' life as a filmmaker
Biography of Melvin Van Peebles

USA | 1971 | colour | 97 minutes | Ratio 1.33:1 | Region 2 DVD


'Arguably the most important black American film of its age' --Time Out

'A stone cold classic of independent cinema' --Sight and Sound

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
An early blaxploit film made on a budget but it works for me.The previous reviewer correctly refers to poor quality picture/lighting but you're not watching a digitally remastered version with the BFI disc.Everything about the movie is raw and has that "fly on the wall" style with many of its scenes.The music is appropiate and messy at the same time and in being so it adds to the urgency of the more dramatic scenes.I will recommend this to any fan of blaxploit with one simple proviso:it ain't polished like "Shaft" - it's down to earth and seems a truly realistic account of life for some members of America's black and ethnic communities of the late sixties and early seventies.
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4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the very worst films of the seventies 13 Dec 2007
This is quite possibly the worst film ever made! The story behind the production and the intentions of Peebles may be inspiring, but the movie sure ain't. Sure, the backbone of it was a seriously slap in the face for the oppressive end of the white establishment which still resonates today - and rightly so. But the significant message this movie was conceived to communicate is utterly lost in an unbearably sloppy 90 minute montage of badly edited violence, endless footage of Peebles running and a few tasteless sex scenes.

I would like to start by pointing out that I have no moral objection to this film, unlike a lot of people who criticise. I love black cinema. I grew up on ropey blaxpoloitation movies and appreciate that cinematic brilliance was not on the top of the priority list for the people who made these movies. However, I cannot get past the fact that this movie is utterly incoherent from start to finish. The plot is almost non-existent, and only about a third of the screen time has anything to do with the 'story' anyway. There are random scenes that have no apparent meaning or significance whatsoever.

It looks dreadful, as if the cameraman was on speed and crack at the same time. Beyond this, the night sequences (which make up a large percentage of the film) are so dark that you literally cannot see a thing. Alas, that may be just as well, as it goes some small way to detracting from the mind-blowingly poor 'acting'. Sweetback himself just pouts and minces about, and he's the best 'character' in there. The sound is awful, often with two songs (the same two songs on a continuous loop) literally playing on top of each other.

I really wanted to like this movie, and I still acknowledge it as a milestone in American culture and social history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.9 out of 5 stars  61 reviews
49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breaking the mold... literally ! 25 Dec 2004
By Eddie Landsberg - Published on
The most important thing to understand about this film is that if you're getting it just because you expect to live up the expectations of its genre... you better not... in fact, that was the debate over Sweetback for years : what was it ? the world's first blaxsploitation film or the world's first black social empowerment movie, a black porno flick or deep social satire ??? B-move trash or a brilliantly inspired art movie... - - The truth is, the strength and weakness of SWEETBACK is that its really all of this, but if you're expecting it to meet the mold of any one of these genre's you'll be disappointed... and that's part of the fun of the film... getting past the shock to see the message, and the message to dig the shock... and just riding along with Sweetback (EWF's soundtrack definitely makes that part easy !) With its gritty, funky tale and soundtrack, ample booty, controversial story no doubt that there's something in it to both appease and offend just about anyone that watches it... so the best thing to do is put it like this : SWEETBACK is a genre all of its own... just sit and watch it in suspended judgement and disbelief... watch it, again and again and again... Depending upon who you are you'll either find it tasty and addictive... or... well, revolting and disgusting... whatever... the fact is when you watch it there's one thing you won't come away seeing, "Man this film reminds me of a film I've seen 100 times before..." Nope... no one really did it before Peebles, and no one (despite all the films it inspired) did it after and that's why you should see it... but again... don't expect Shaft, Rudy Ray Moore or Superfly... that's not what the film is about... and whatever you do DO NOT WATCH IF EASILY OFFENDED... Now, on with the *****ing contest ! ! !
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On the run from an all-white jury... 12 Jun 2001
By Piers - Published on
In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles managed to get this little gem released by Cinemation Industries, a low-budget exploitation distributor and launched into theatres, consequently launching what would come to be known as Blaxpoitation at the same time. True, there were other black films before this one, but never one like it, and really, there never would be again.
Melvin van plays Sweetback, a professional stud who works live sex shows, who is picked up by the cops to help them look as though they are working on a murder case. But when, the cops stop to rough up a revolutionary, Sweetback suddenly develops revolutionary ideas of his own and beats up the cops with his own handcuffs and goes on the run. That's essentially it, and what may seem boring, dated, disgusting and/or silly to most people, was some radical stuff back in 71. [...] It's radical enough now, you ain't ever seen a film like this! During his travels, Sweetback encounters all kinds of opposition (cops, biker gangs, posses etc), sees all kinds of places in the ghetto (baptist churches, rat-infested tenements, and finally the dessert)and is subjected to all kinds of experimental film making (colour tints, subjective shots, weird angles, freeze-frames etc.)
What makes this film so different and exciting for me, is that having obviously been made with private money and many, many miles away froma studio, it can and does push the politics and revolutionary rhetoric right in your face and believe me it does! It is little wonder that Huey Newton (supposedly) made this required viewing for the Black Panther Party and that within a short time films like Shaft, Superfly and their clones were filling the cinemas on 42nd Street. Unlike the legions of films that followed this, which became more and more watered down copies of the central idea of this film (that a black man can take on his oppressors and actually win), this film is the REAL DEAL and power to van Peebles for having the guts and wherewithall to get his vision splashed across the screens.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Historically Important, But Awfully Raw and Crude 31 Mar 2006
By Tsuyoshi - Published on
Without the historical context in the early 70s, `Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song' makes no sense at all. But if you have some knowledge about so-called blaxploitaion films, minor film genre made mainly for Afro-American audiences in the 70s, `Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song' is still a very bizarre experience to you. And I am a Japanese, fan of Pam Grier films, but I believe the film about `Sweet Sweetback' looks strange wherever you live.

The content or message of `Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song' can be summarized in the following words you will see at the beginning of the film: "This film is dedicated to all the Brothers and Sisters who had enough of the Man." Most probably before this film no film had ever tried to show a black character hitting and knocking out a white (and a white cop for that matter), and for better or worse, the way the film does it is amazingly raw and crude.

The Man is represented by several non-descriptive white cops who beat up a black. When star and director Melvin Van Peebles says he had enough, he (or his character) shows it by bludgeoning the cops senseless. The police (largely whites) are not competent enough to chase Sweetback, and he gets away very easily from them. By the conventional standard of narrative, the film is almost pointless, going on and on without showing where it is leading us. Occasionally we see Sweetback helped by some and betrayed by others (including blacks), or the strange episodes of Sweetback drinking the water in the mud.

It might look strange today that the film actually became a big hit in 1971, but it did. What distinguishes `Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song' from the films like `Shaft' and `Coffy' both commercial success, is the crudeness of its message and the techniques. As to the message there is nothing that I can add here, I tried to find the sub-texts in the scenes of Melvin Van Peebles running endlessly in the street of LA, or lots of nude bodies in the film, but could find nothing in them.

You know what you should expect from the low-budget film with less-than-enough lighting equipment. That happened in the films like `Superfly.' But `Superfly' doesn't have so many double exposures, out-of-focus images, and other tricks that could be seen only in the psychedelic era. At the same time, the film is also notable for clever use of the jazzy and funky soundtrack by Earth Wind and Fire, setting the trend of the blaxploitaion films and their music.

But all these things do not prove that the film is still good as entertainment nor justify the abundant nudities and sex scenes. The opening section showing young Sweetback (played by Melvin's real-life son Mario) is still unnecessarily graphic and even shocking to some today.

Perhaps as Mario Van Peebles did in his `Baadassss!' a filmic account of the making, `Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song' is most interesting if seen with social and personal history behind itself. Otherwise, the messy film is hard to enjoy as it is today.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars numerous virtues, but doesn't live up to good and bad hype 7 Dec 2005
By T. Boram - Published on
just see it. i'll say that much. it is pretty flimsy stuff, content-wise, but it had something going for it stylistically. it looks like a 60s primative art flick. there were a multitude of attractive shots and great late 60s psychedelic vibes. it actually reminded me a little of easy rider, but not as good. whereas easy rider is a sort of plotless ramble of a hippy death trip in the desert set to good music, sweet sweetback is a kind of naive celebration of the black penis within a plotless ramble of a black panther trip in the desert set to good music.

the earth wind and fire music is fantastic. however the main musical theme was overused and it comes off as awkward as it fades in time after time throughout the movie. particularly effective though is the strange vocal chanting bits. it's vaguely like a call and response baptist congregation, a heavy handed evocation perhaps, but it's really cool sounding and it builds tension as sweetback runs through the desert. and speaking of the desert, peebles doesn't get enough credit for his visual knack. the colors and tangibility of the barren desert and industrial blase' of the southern california back country is very well photographed.

so in the end i wasn't offended by this. do i care that a young mario was filmed having sex with an actress? not really. i read an interview with mario recently, he doesn't seem much the worse for wear and he has a lot of respect for his father and this film (maybe too much?). the race politics of the film may indeed be confusing and seem off the mark. the film is very quaint, actually, in that regard.

but i think it is enjoyable as a mood piece. many of the incidental parts are obviously just played by people peebles found on the street. it's awesome footage. a very attractive tapestry of old school cali funkiness. i feel that the movie works on a metalevel and in spite of the many idealogical flaws it's a great document from the era.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant in spots! Questionable in others! Recommended! 15 Oct 2004
By smoothjazzandmore - Published on
I finally got the chance to see this movie in 1985 after Roger Ebert gave this a glowing review calling it a "groundbreaking" film for black filmmakers. Melvin Van Peebles basically captures what life was for Black Americans in the 1970's. The only thing I questioned was the use of a kid in the opening scene (Later identified as his son, Mario). Because of the low budget, I highly doubt that you can find a better print to transfer over to DVD. Take it for what it is. It's still a very good movie.
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