Friday, July 24, 2009

Dolemite (1975)

When drugs and murder run rampant in town, the prison warden assumes the role of judge, jury, and releasecutioner, deciding to let local folk hero and pimp Dolemite back onto the streets. He's the only one capable of wiping out the plague of crime and corruption, as opposed to, say, the police. With the help of Queen Bee and his legion of karate-chopping prostitutes, Dolemite is determined to buy his club back, take down Willie Green, and murder as many corrupt honkys as humanly possible.
Dolemite begins with a scene that would be perfect source material for an introductory film course on how not to shoot a movie. The sound is terrible, the acting stilted, the shots wide, and the edge of the frame littered with boom mics and bounce boards. The scene is purely expository, articulating why Dolemite is in jail, when he's going to be released, and what he's going to do while he's out, like a thesis statement for the film.
He was framed for the the possession of cocaine and stolen furs. The cocaine I understand, but the furs seem completely superfluous. Isn't narcotics possession enough? Why throw some mink coats into the mix? If I blackmailed someone, I wouldn't ask for $50,000 and a bite-sized Snickers bar.

Dolemite wastes no time once released. Within the first 15 minutes, he's pimped out, surrounded by prostitutes, and serviced on the ride home. Unfortunately the mobile booty call is interrupted by a car of annoying white people trying to kill him. He settles the matter with the artful use of a submachine gun.
From then on Dolemite's plan gets a little hazy. He basically seeks haphazard revenge against those who've wronged him, especially the two corrupt police officers who put him in jail. When they try to frame him again, he kicks them in the general vicinity of their bodies and throws cocaine on them.
Somewhere along the way a stone-faced FBI agent shows up (Jerry Jones, also the screenwriter). Dolemite takes care of bad pimp Willie Green. And the mayor, a man so ugly he only could have been elected in the 70s, is implicated in the mess and promptly murdered.
A common theme runs throughout many black exploitation films where they pick and choose which illegal activities are acceptable and which are a source of shame. Dolemite scolds the rampant drug use and murder in the neighborhood, while lesser crimes like pimping and prostitution are not only accepted, but a point of pride. The movie blurs this distinction even more by making a junkie the comic relief. Even though Dolemite's mission is to curb the flow of narcotics, he uses Hamburger Pimp for information, saying he won't "have to worry about his fix from now on."
The boom mics and bounce boards are not just relegated to the first scene. They're practically supporting characters. If Dolemite were Casablanca, the bounce board would be Peter Lorre and the boom mic Claude Rains. The boom mic operator even makes a brief appearance in the bottom right hand corner, which would make him... Sydney Greenstreet or something.
If Dolemite is about anything, it's power through self-confidence. It's no coincidence that he uses "born-insecure" in one of his profanity-laden verbal smackdowns. He is easily the most confident man in the movie. Dolemite is out of the streets entertaining the troops, while Willie Green absconds to the shadows of various backrooms and Cadillac Coupe de Villes. He doesn't hire a headlining act for his club. He is the opening act. He is honest and proud, never ashamed of his behavior, nor requiring any need to. He's a man's man. And a woman's man. And he wants to cut a ghost. And he has his own theme song. What more do you need?

Quotable quotes:

Dolemite: I've been wantin' to see me a honky dance!

Corrupt Cop: You got all them black bitches workin' for you.
Dolemite: You forgot about the white ones.

Hamburger Pimp: I'm so bad I kick my own ass twice a day.

Dolemite: I'm gonna let 'em know that Dolemite is my name and fuckin' up mother fuckers is my game!

Dolemite: If you ever see a ghost, cut the mother fucker.

Arbitrary ranking system:

"If you don't see this explosive bucket of cinematic TNT, then you're a no-business, born-insecure, jock-jawed mother fucker!" -Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

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