Tuesday, August 10, 2010
By Scott Tre
The blaxploitation genre was defunct by the dawn of the summer blockbuster era. Though its flame had burned out, remnants of it would turn up in Hollywood's next phase. The capes and perms on display at the players ball soon turned up in a galaxy far, far away. While Billy Dee Williams' portrayal of Lando Calrissian in the The Empire Strikes Back made him seem like a more suave and mannered yet darker skinned equivalent of Han Solo, a deeper look reveals something a bit more subversive and perhaps not wholly unintended.
The mayor of Bespins Cloud City sported a fresh perm and a James Brown styled cape. Though he didn't speak with the broken English of a player or hustler, he was every bit the rogue. Though he didn't pimp hoes or deal dope, Lando was every bit the descendant of Blaxploitation characters like Superfly's Preist or The Mack's Goldie. One only has to look at how he spits game at Princess Leia as she lands she exits the Millennium Falcon arm in arm with Han Solo to see how he gets down. Star Wars appealed to black kids every bit as much as it did white, and Lando gave African American Star Wars fans someone to relate to.
While the pimpish cinematic lineage of Lando was always evident, it has always gone largely unnoticed. It is has now become the focus of an intriguing and hilarious hoax. Outsider productions has produced a trilogy of faux mini-docs and a trailer for a Star Wars film that never existed. According to the fabricated history laid out in the documentary, black businessman Frederick Jackson Junior had begun filming a Black Exploitation picture set in the Star Wars Universe.
Entitled Blackstar Warrior, The film was never completed. It featured an African American protagonist by the name of Lando, the very same Lando that would later appear as a supporting Character in The Empire Strikes Back. All of this is played completely straight faced, as though it is a matter of historical fact. The documentaries show the sequence of events that supposedly lead to the creation of the film. The "Trailer" for Blackstar Warrior is supposedly made up of the only usable footage that remained from the abandoned production.
All of this culminates with the trailer for Blackstar Warrior. The hilarious clip is reminiscent of the early trailers for Black Dynamite in that silliness of the idea does not undermine its inherent coolness. Darth Vader is featured as a hand ringing villain in the tradition of "The Man" or just about any other interchangeable evil white man from black exploitation films. Lando's past as a gambler and ladies man is played up much more prominently than it ever was in the original trilogy. He also doesn't play second fiddle to Han Solo. The totally inept Chewbacca costume is laugh out loud hilarious, and the aesthetic fidelity to the original Star Wars is impressive. While it doesn't achieve the same uncanny level of authenticity as Black Dynamite, it manages to be lots of fun in its own right.
With the amount of Star Wars spoofs and parodies that have been done over the years, it's quite amazing that no one had considered this angle yet. The original Star Wars, while timeless, is also undeniably a product of the 70's. The hairstyles, costumes and even some of the philosophical elements mark as being a product of that decade without dating it in bad way. A Blaxploitation adventure set in that universe makes perfect sense. Only the most humorless and/or overly reverent Star Wars fans could possibly miss the inherent entertainment value in this idea.
For more info and updates go to Lando Is The Man.
By Scott Tre
The temperamental nature of gifted artists usually tests the patience of his public. His most outstanding flaws can be forgiven as long as he continues to produce great works that curry favor with his audience. An artist that is perhaps too self aware will sometimes push the envelope and end up overplaying his hand. He then puts himself in the unenviable position of having to work his way back in the public's good graces.
Kanye West has emerged as one of, if not the most important rap artist of the last decade. His ascent to the top, and his ability to maintain that position represented the beginning of a tonal shift in the genre. This was cemented by his victory over 50 Cent in 2007 when Graduation outsold Curtis by a sizable margin during their first week of sales. That event ended up being a flash point for the diminished importance of street credibility in modern hip-hop. However, his blatant materialism and narcissistic tendencies have shown that the egocentric side of Hip-Hop remains a constant. His penchant for attention whoring reached an apex last year with his inexcusable antics during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards. The instantaneous overreaction of both his music industry peers and the entertainment news media showed that his brand of spoiled sport narcissism had finally run its course. Seemingly humbled and embarrassed, Kan-yezee went into self-imposed exile.
Chris Brown's warmly received tearful rendition of Micheal Jackson's "Man In the Mirror" shows that even the most seemingly unforgivable transgressions can be forgotten about. The passage of time, coupled with the fickle and forgetful nature of the American public as well as the exhilaration of seeing a tremendous talent at the height of his powers can heal all wounds. That is the purest definition of star power. Kanye, while not interested in begging and groveling for our forgiveness, understands this. His new single, fittingly titled "Power", is an effort by Kanye to remind us of just why we tolerate his foolishness.
Performed at the very same BET Award ceremony as Chris Brown's MJ Tribute, "Power" is typical post Late Registration Kanye West. Sonically it casts a much wider net than the RZA/Primo inspired crate digging aesthetic found on his first two albums. The hand claps and half-time sports arena stomp of the drums announce "Power" as a non dance oriented pop song. The tribal choral singing gives it a subconsciously defiant feel. The mournful Rock guitar gives it an air of privileged rich kid angst. Kanye brilliantly interpolates a phrase that may be a reference to a line of dialogue uttered by Peter Boyle in Spike Lees epic biopic Malcolm X: "No one man should have this much Power". As the track devolves in a flurry of synths towards the end, it may as well play under the closing credits of a modern day sports film. It's not suited to my particular tastes, but it is undeniably effective.
The video that accompanies the clip is much more to my liking. It begins with an iconic image of Kanye glaring/glowering into the camera and wearing a Horus chain that is easily the coolest piece of truck jewelry I've seen in quite some time. It makes Kanye look like a cross between a rapper and an Egyptian pharaoh. He is standing in the midst of a heavenly background, amongst clouds and in the middle of two rows of Roman styled pillars that stretch into infinity. The color scheme gives it a Zack Snyder, 300 sort of vibe. The camera pulls back slowly. Kanye is flanked by what appear to be two robed and horned albino beauties. A scantily clad angel is seated in front of him. More is revealed as the camera pulls back even further. An illuminated sword that appears to be descending from the heavens hovers ominously above Kanye's head. More scantily clad, statuesque beautiful figures creep in from underneath the boundaries of the frame. Two women in the upper left and right hand corners hang upside down and douse themselves with water. As the clip comes to a close, the camera is liberated from its slow and steady trajectory and begins to map different sections of the frame. Two warriors leap through the air from the left and right. They are both wielding swords and seem poised to cleave Kanye, or perhaps each other, in half. Kanye remains stoically in position, his glare intact.
The clip plays more like a brief commercial for Kanye's upcoming album Dark Twisted Fantasy than a music video (then again, aren't music videos essentially extended commercials?). Almost any single frame could serve as the cover. It was directed by artist Marco Brambila, who helped Sylvester Stallone stage an early 90's comeback with Demolition Man. He has brought his knowledge of art to the table, as the sword hovering over Kanye's head is actually the sword of Damocles, from the classical Greek anecdote about the plight of those in power. This is fitting as the picture has the feeling of a Renaissance painting come to life. Remember the scene from Taylor Hackford's The Devil's Advocate, where the human forms in the sculpture hanging on the wall of John Milton's (Al Pacino) lavish office become restlessly animated? It has that same quality.
Nothing sells a product faster than packaging it in stunning, eye catching imagery. Rap videos have never been known for stylistic or thematic innovation, usually becoming a showcase for arm movements that seem to be some form of sign language meant to be seen by NASA satellites. Marco Brambilla not only gives us a pretty picture to look at, but invites rap fan to do two things that are rarely asked on them: think and interpret. Message boards are already abuzz with talk of the illumanati and masonic imagery. Arm chair conspiracy theorists seem to forget that rappers love to play around with such images in abstract ways. If Kanye really was part of some ancient pagan cult set on taking over the world, I doubt he would drop clues to such affiliations in this fashion, or perhaps he and Marco are having fun with such theories. Either way, it gives us something to talk about, as well as an album to anticipate. Diva or not, Kanye continues to push the boundaries of how rappers are allowed to present and express themselves.
By Scott Tre
Uncle Ruckus's incessant self hatred has been an endless source of humor for The Boondocks over the years. Some of it truly insightful and hilarious, some of it repetitive and pointless. In all three seasons, we have seen it taken to ever more ridiculous lengths via Ruckus' increasingly outrageous commentary and even more outrageous antics. With "The Story Of Jimmy Rebel" it seemed as though the joke had finally worn thin and Aaron Mcgruder and his creative team resorted to the most obvious brand shock humor. It seemed as though The Boondocks would end without us getting any real insight as to the engine that drives Ruckus' disdain for his own race. The best humor usually contains a grain of truth, or something that causes us to look inward and examine our own thoughts and experiences. It had been a good long while since the exploits of Ruckus had provided either. He had become a mascot, a side show character.
At long last, Ruckus is given a bit of back-story in "The Color Ruckus". His abusive and burdensome grandmother has crashed his home, looking for a comfortable place to die. Ruckus's parents and brothers follow her in anticipation of her demise. Ruckus's father, Mister (D.C. Curry), is every bit as insensitive and hateful as his mother and openly wishes for her to croak. He routinely berates his wife and kids, with Ruckus often being the focal point of his blistering verbal abuse. Flashbacks reveal that his treatment of Ruckus as a child was in fact so horrible that his wife had to invent a fairy tale world for Ruckus to retreat to. She told him that he was actually abandoned by a white family, and that his dark skin and negroid features are symptoms of an imaginary disease called re-vitiligo, which has the exact opposite effect of vitiligo. Though she meant to give him some much needed self-esteem, it actually caused to him to disassociate himself from black people completely. The combination of his father's abuse and his mothers well intentioned lies resulted in the abomination that is Uncle Ruckus.
The Title "The Color Ruckus" is a play on Steven Spielberg's film The Color Purple, itself based on Alice Walker's novel. Ruckus's father "Mister" is meant to parallel the character of the same name in both the novel and the film. Ruckus's fabricated origin story is a play on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The Ruckus clan is a parody of a dysfunctional family unit the likes of which the world has never seen. Even the most offensively stereotypical contemporary chitlin' circuit play has probably never had characters quite like this. In fact, "The Color Ruckus" plays like one of the many black family dramas/comedies that are centered around family reunions and funerals. Mister never misses a chance to remind his family of their worthlessness and how they contributed to his broken dreams. It sheds light on how black men trying to raise families during the days of Jim Crow often took their frustration out on their loved ones. The episode makes no justification for this, but rather displays it plainly and finds much dark humor in it. It also examines the old adage of how hateful parents raise hateful children. Perhaps, Ruckus had no choice but to become the man that he is given the circumstances.
At last, the cycle of Uncle Ruckus is complete. "The Color Ruckus" is the first time in a long time where the shock humor associated with the character hits its mark every time. It even manages to muster up pathos for the insufferable old bastard. Even the most unbearable curmudgeon has a story; to ignore that story is to not acknowledge his existence as a human being. After enduring shallow episodes that played his corrosive mindset for the crudest and cheapest laughs imaginable, The Boondocks resident self hating negro finally gets fleshed out. He truly is his father's child.