Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sticking It to the Man (and Squeamish Woman)

About damn time I got introduced to the world of blaxploitation films.

That would be the kind where a man can get out of any scrape using the skill of his member.

But being my first such venture, I got dinner first to ensure I'd be able to handle a gritty 70s film about black power.

Pescado's China Street was quiet when we arrived but started to build while we ate dinner.

Starting with vinho verde and pork ano arepas (braised pork over South American cornmeal cakes, pork jus, pickled onion, apricot chutney with a spicy basil jalapeno sauce), I was immediately immersed in pig and corn, two Southern things I love.

As we were eating that, a foursome joined us at the bar. He was a local and his guests were visiting from central Pennsylvania.

There was some discussion of a dilemma about football team allegiance before the visitors turned to the menu.

It was obviously a switch from PA because the woman only half-jokingly asked, "Could I have the enchiladas? It's not going to come  out with eyes, is it?"

And then bada bing, bada boom, our snapper Cancun, a whole one and a half pound fish, arrived upright as if it had been flash fried and swam onto the plate.

The look on the woman's face was priceless.

"How are you going to eat that?" one of the men asked.

Any way we could. Knocking it over, we began devouring the salty, crispy skinned fish while she looked away.

Fingers superseded forks for this endeavor, which no doubt repulsed her even more.

My companion noted that he hadn't fish so well prepared since he was last in Italy. High praise indeed.

After licking the salty fish juices from our fingers, we proceeded to the Grace Street Theater for a lesson in both cultural history and film history courtesy of the James River Film Fest.

I don't know about you, but there was no way I could pass up a chance to see "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" on the big screen.

An independent film from 1971 made by Melvin Van Peebles (with additional financing from Bill Cosby), it told the story of the black man's struggle to escape the authority of the white man.

Seen through the lens of the early 70s, of course.

Made during the black power movement days, it was required viewing for members of the Black Panther Party.

Film buffs could see that the film took many black influences and sifted them through the lessons of French New Wave (jump cuts, montages) for a story of a black Robin Hood.

I can even say I had two favorite credits: "Sweetback's Fashions by Mr. Y of L.A." and "Starring: The Black Community."

When's the last time you saw an entire community credited? And a good part of his wardrobe was his birthday suit, fine as it was.

It was 1971-hip with such anachronisms as spray deodorant and phrases like, "Can you take it, baby?" asked in a sing-song Barry White kind of voice.

Black pride and resentment permeated the script, like when someone said, "He died from an overdose of black misery."

Heavy. That's heavy, man.

The movie began with a scene of the young Sweetback losing his virginity (Van Peebles used his own kid Mario for that scene, which was questionable in and of itself) to a prostitute.

At one point Sweetback is asked to choose his method of confrontation and he chooses "f*cking."

Guess who wins?

After watching Sweetback beat white cops senseless, trudge the desert and eat a lizard and make love to plenty of women, I had an appreciation for Van Peebles message and sense of the absurd.

The film ended with "Watch out - a badaasss nigger is coming to collect some dues," so we were warned.

I feel certain there were film students in that theater who just got a cultural history lesson they could never have imagined.

Can you dig it, kids?

The Earth, Wind and Fire score provided the ideal 70s Greek chorus to the action of Sweetback's journey through white hell.

Finally indoctrinated into the world of blaxploitation, we took it down a notch by going across the street to Ipanema to hear the Blood Brothers spin records from the 60s and 70s.

Oddly enough, the same period as the black power movement.

Coincidence? It wasn't for me to say.

With Wineworks Viognier and two desserts (Mexican chocolate pie and almond cheesecake) we set up camp on the bench to hear some jumpin' tunes and watch the lively and changing crowd filter through the bar.

Until you hear how well these guys spin vintage records, you can't imagine the satisfaction of one great song followed by another perfect choice.

And talk about fine wardrobes - Jamie and Duane are the moddest things you could hope to see on a Wednesday night in Richmond.

Best line overheard, "A world without cheese, that's a world I don't want to live in."

I gave the guy a hallelujah behind that one.

Agreed, brother.

Hell, I'd have even raised my fist to that.

Now that Sweet Sweetback's shown me how it's done, I can take it.



  1. Sometimes you are so funny.

  2. Thanks!

    On occasion I like to think so.