Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is a 1971 blaxploitation written, produced, composed, edited, acted, & directed by Melvin Van Peebles (The Story of a Three-Day Pass, Watermelon Man, Don’t Play Us Cheap, Gang in Blue, & Tales of Erotica). It’s considered the original blaxploitation film, it preceded Shaft by a few months. It’s the first film that created & inspired the classic sub genre. After Watermelon Man was a financial success, Columbia Pictures offered Van Peebles a 3 picture deal. They weren’t willing to back something so different from everything else. As a matter of fact, no studio or producer was interested in taking a risk for this project. Van Peebles put all of his own money into the production & he shot it independently. He got a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby to finish the film. Melvin Van Peebles tried his best to cast the lead in this after looking all over for the perfect actor. No one really wanted to do the role unless the dialogue was increased & Van Peebles didn’t want to change the script. So he decided to add one more job to his already busy schedule for the film.
This production was full of crazy incidents. He ended getting gonorrhea from a sex scene in this so he applied for compensation from the Directors Guild because he technically got hurt while working on the project & he used the money to buy more film. His real gun somehow ended up in the prop box. He was one of the first to release the soundtrack before the actual film was released. Van Peebles paid Earth, Wind, & Fire with a bad check for this production. They have never been compensated for their work on this project. Originally, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song only played in two theaters in America. It had so much success in Atlanta & Detroit that it got a bigger release which helped it earn $15,000,000+ at the box office after all it’s years. It was the top grossing independent movie of 1972. The final budget of the film was only $150,000!!!! It was the film debut for Mario Van Peebles. In 2004, Mario Van Peebles directed & starred as his father in Baadasssss! A biopic about the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
A orphan (played by: Mario Van Peebles from Baadasssss!, New Jack City, Posse, Exterminator 2, & Full Eclipse) is taken in by a Los Angeles brothel. He is given the job of towel boy at the business. He is raped by a prostitute. The prostitutes give him the nickname of Sweet Sweetback. When he gets older, Sweetback (played by: Melvin Van Peebles from Last Action Hero, Terminal Velocity, The Shining, & Jaws: The Revenge) works in a whorehouse. Two LAPD officers come in to speak to Beetle (played by: Simon Chuckster) about a murder. They are under pressure to find the killer by the community. They are desperate to find a suspect so they arrest Sweetback to try to end this controversial case. They are forced to release him due to lack of evidence. He witnesses Police Officers beating Mu-Mu (played by: Hubert Scales from The Story Behind Baadasssss!: The Birth of Black Cinema) & he retaliates against them. He flees to Mexico to avoid being arrested & facing revenge for his brutal act towards the LAPD. He is captured by law enforcement but ends up escaping after a riot breaks loose! He uses sex to help from various females while on the run. This leads him to the Hells Angels includes an ambitious Biker (played by: John Amos from Coming to America, Die Hard 2, Lock Up, Two Evil Eyes, & Good Times). This leads to chase & final confrontation with the police. Can Sweetback survive these men that can legally kill him without any worries? It’s him against the world until the very end!!!!
Let’s talk about the high definition presentation on this release. This 1080p (1.85:1) 4K transfer is from it’s original 35 MM camera negative. Before the film starts you get a warning from Vinegar Syndrome which states “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss song was photographed in a variety of formats. While just over half the film was shot on 35mm negative, roughly 40% was shot on 16mm color reversal & was blown up to 35mm to be edited into the negative, at which point the 16mm footage was discarded. Due to the variety of visual effects used throughout the film, the blow up process was performed in different ways & on different stocks. Some of these blow-up stocks were, unfortunately, very unstable & have severely faded over the past 45+ years. The affected sections only make up a few minutes of run time & have taken on a slightly solarized look. While every effort was made to minimize this effect, it could not be fully removed.” Luckily, there’s no real major issues on this scan. It has print damage every once in awhile & some of the night scenes look okay. It’s still superior to any other previous home video release! Fans of this film & the sub genre will be pleased with this. The 1.0 DTS-HD MA track is impressive for being an older low budget production. I loved how the score & soundtrack sounded on it. It definitely adds to the atmosphere of this. English SDH subtitles are also included.
How many films can say they created a sub genre? Not many, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song definitely set the tone for blaxploitation. It’s very stylish especially for it’s time. It’s edited very smart also to extend the running time at some moments. It has a little bit of everything in this. It had some nice action scenes. Lots of sex to keep any fan of sleaze happy. The characters all had their own unique vibe to them. It’s funny how all the stories say Melvin Van Peebles couldn’t find a lead actor so he did the role himself. I don’t believe that at all, I think he always wanted to play this part & specifically wrote it for himself. Most directors that put themselves in the lead in their own film really suffer because they either can’t handle both responsibilities at the same time or just suck at acting. Van Peebles was way better than expected in the title role & he carried the production. You have to remember, he did more than directing & acting for this. He pretty much did everything when it came to this project. I am sure most of that was motivated because he financed almost all of this & wearing that many hats saved him so much money in the long tun but he honestly pulled it off in every single category. This has influenced so many other projects & film makers over the years. It’s one of those moments in cinema you have to atleast check out once no matter what. Vinegar Syndrome has restored an important production in film history with this!
Let’s discuss the special features on this Vinegar Syndrome release! Audio Commentary with film historian & radio host Sergio Mims. He talks about his personal connection & experience to the film. He mentions the Ratings back then when this was released. He goes into detail about the MPAA. X Rated basically meant Porn no matter what it was to theaters. He talks about Van Peebles struggling to make it in Hollywood. He mentions the controversy of the film. He brings up how important this was to Independent Black Cinema. He chats about films from around that time. He goes into how it made a good amount of money at the box office. He says his high school teacher inspired him to go see this in theaters. They still let him see it despite it’s X rating. He talks about meeting the director. He’s bring his son Mario & the films he made including the one based off this. He chats about interviewing them & Melvin just rambled on rather than answering a single question. He discusses the music & how Van Peebles met the performers for it. Lots of information & stories are provided on this track. “Career Interview” is a 23 minute interview with writer, actor, editor, composer, producer, & director Melvin Van Peebles. He chats about his first few features & how they got him a chance with Hollywood. He chats about getting an X Rating & Columbia Pictures pulling out of their original deal before this. He goes into detail about this film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. He chats about other blaxploitation films. He talks about his son making a film based off this & himself. “Interview” is an almost 32 minute discussion with actress Niva Rochelle. She talks about what inspired her about cinema & why she got into acting. She chats about being extra. She said called blaxploitation Black Hollywood at the time. She goes into how she finally got her chance. She talks about meeting Van Peebles & working with him.
She mentions the controversy of it. She chats about Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song & brings up her name was misspelled. She goes into other work that she did like commercials & television. She brings up her film Tongue & chats about it for a little bit. 36 minute “Q&A” with writer, actor, editor, composer, producer, & director Melvin Van Peebles at 2013 Black Panther Film Festival. You can tell he loves talking about this production. He mentions Shaft changed it’s whole film after seeing his. He mentions the studio deal he was offered. He brings up how it was only in a few theaters at first but it got major support. He answers questions from the crowd. He rambles on when he responds to them. “The Real Deal” is a 22 minute interview with writer, actor, editor, composer, producer, & director Melvin Van Peebles. It’s a making of documentary with the man who had many jobs on this production. He goes over old locations. He brings up the struggles of making this low budget film. He says he couldn’t afford a stunt man so he did it himself. The DP made it him jump & do a dangerous shot 9 times just to get it right. He mentions his influences. He shares some funny & interesting stories from the film. He mentions this was supposed to be a trilogy. Promotional materials include an almost 5 minute “Still Gallery” & the Theatrical Trailer. It also comes with a 10 page book with an essay by Travis Crawford, DVD copy, & reversible artwork! A limited edition version with a slipcover is available direct from Vinegar Syndrome. This release is top notch & it comes highly recommended from me! Looking forward to more stuff like this in the future!