Sunday, February 27, 2011

Heroes Of Blaxploitation: Melvin Van Peebles

Day Twenty-seven:

Melvin Van Peebles (b.1932) was a real badass! Starting out as a cable car driver, Melvin drew from his experiences driving around and started writing and taking photographs. That eventually morphed into a book, and soon he was encouraged to take the next step to Filmmaking. He made a couple of shorts and tried to get some work in Hollywood. That didn't really work out but he did find some acclaim in France and was taken under the wing by the artistic community there. While in France he translated English language magazines into French, wrote plays, novels and even put out albums.

Melvin made his first feature length film in Paris with The Story Of A Three-Day Pass (1968), getting the attention of American critics who thought he was the next great French auteur. Soon he got his first studio film, and made the groundbreaking film Watermelon Man (1970). A picture about racism that manages to entertain as well as be thought provoking. It was Melvin's next film that really help to define the genre... Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song! (1971) the seminal Blaxploitation picture which Melvin wrote, starred, directed and composed the music for.

With SWEET, Melvin broke the rules. Because he was a man who liked to do it all, Melvin ran into trouble trying to find those who were willing to finance such risky projects. He didn't direct all that much in his career, but he did make a few more films... Don't Play Us Cheap (1973), Indentity Crisis (1989) which starred his son Mario, Bellyful (2000) and recently Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha (2008).

And as a writer: Just An Old Sweet Song (1976), Greased Lightning (1977), The Sophisticated Gents (1981) Panther (1995) which was based on his own novel and directed by son Mario (who made his own version of Melvin's story about the making of SWEET with the film Badasssss! from 2003). Melvin also wrote and produced the documentary Classified X (1998).

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