Tag Archives: Human Tornado

If You Don’t Watch These Movies, You’re Racist

15 Feb

Fifth Avenue was slow in adopting hip-hop, but once ad agencies and marketing departments realized there were Big Buck$ in that beat, they took to it like gangbusters. Today, it’s hard to imagine a jingle or pop song without the familiar boom, snare, boom boom, snare, a beat that backs many forms of modern music, from country to country western. T-shirts emblazoned with logos and designs are common fare for the Wal-Mart rack, while graffiti seems to grow and grow worldwide. Hip-hop is a culture that has intermingled with so many mainstream cultures that it’s become the undercurrent to our daily lives. It’s hard to imagine a time that hip-hop wasn’t ever present in our society.


But such a time did exist, and relatively speaking it wasn’t that long ago. Hip-hop didn’t get absorbed into popular culture until Bill Clinton’s second term, though it had, by then, made significant inroads. When I was a little kid, hip-hop didn’t even exist, at least not in my cloistered world. I didn’t hear a rap song until radio station Z100 played “Jam On It” by Newcleus around 1985. In fact, rap music and hip-hop culture had to be presented to much of America, white or otherwise, before it took hold and spread like wildfire. The following four movies were earnest attempts at doing just that.


Style Wars, 1984
Of the four movies presented in this essay, Style Wars can be said to be the most “real,” in that it is a documentary instead of a fictionalized account of hip-hop culture. Originally planned as a documentary about break dancing, producers Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant began concentrating more on graffiti and rapping as the fad of break dancing started to die down (this film, along with Flashdance, helped revive it for a little while in the mid-eighties). You don’t have to be a fan of hip-hop to enjoy this engaging and well-made documentary, so quotable that some of my friends and I can speak solely in Style Wars language. We greet each other with “Gigolo! What you know?!” and describe a weekend plan as “everybody getting united at the bench, 149th Street, Grand Concourse.” This is probably my second favorite movie of all time after The Human Tornado.


Wild Style, 1983
This movie has been called an addendum to Style Wars, and it may be, at that. Featuring everyone in the hip-hop scene that wasn’t in Style Wars, Wild Style is a kind of Romeo and Juliet story about a graffiti writing couple’s struggle between staying true to the underground or blowing up and becoming minor celebrities among Lower East Side phonies. Or something like that. It’s an indie film at its most indie, which means it’s short on plot and technical ability, but it is long on actual footage of rap parties and writing graffiti in train yards. It’s rather touching that this movie attempted to be a crossover film to the mainstream by including Patti Astor in a miniature role. Wild Style is so bumbling, it’s adorable, and that’s besides the fact that Lady Pink is an 80s cutie throughout the movie.


Krush Groove, 1985
A fictionalized account of record label Def Jam’s early days, Krush Groove is different from the previous two movies I mentioned in that it doesn’t bother with many other elements of hip-hop besides the rapping and deejaying. Blair Underwood stars as Russell Simmons, and Russell Simmons stars as a nightclub promoter, and that’s just about the only thing coherent in the film. There’s a whole story about how Simmons’ acts get poached by another label and then the meat heads from House Party 2 beat the snot out of him for a while, but you can content yourself with watching a teenage LL Cool J in his big screen debut, as well as Fat Boys gluttonous montage “All You Can Eat,” a worthwhile reason to watch the movie by itself.


Beat Street, 1984
This would be the White Devil of the four movies presented here, being that it had the biggest budget and was distributed by MGM. Featuring Rae Dawn Chong and practically no one else worth mentioning, Beat Street is a kind of amalgam of the other three movies, featuring the most interesting elements of each film and discarding the personality. Oddly enough, though it’s the most mainstream of these four movies, it has some of the best scenes of urban blight of any of them, including a main character living as a squatter with his family, something which was a reality for many more New Yorkers during the 1970s than were Adidas sneakers. Of the four movies, this is probably the most watchable, but it’s the least interesting from a contextual perspective. Watch it only after watching the others, but don’t watch them all in the same day. You’ll probably want to go out and break dance after such a marathon.

Motherfucking Dolemite

1 Feb

There are few entertainers as diverse and eccentric as Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolemite. Rudy began as an R&B singer, but after a favorable reception while performing for his fellow servicemen in the Army, he developed a strong comedy routine, mainly based around raunchy one-liners and put downs. X-rated material kept him off television, but Moore developed a strong following, particularly in Black clubs around the country. He released around thirty albums combining music and filthy jokes which were wildly popular. One of his common routines was that his dick was somehow so mind-blowing, women would spontaneously shit when he slid it inside them.

Moore was also an accomplished actor, and was featured in about twenty movies, starring in most of them. Most of his recent features bear no scrutiny, but he was featured in the Insane Clown Posse’s movie Big Money Hustlas as Dolemite for was was the first time in twenty years. Then Moore shit in the Dolemite franchise by making real shitfests like Shaolin Dolemite. Really, when enjoying Dolemite–and you will enjoy Dolemite, I guarantee it–there are three movies to view. The Dolemite Trilogy, I call it, and it is as follows:


1. The Human Tornado, 1976
Mainstream America was introduced to the character of Dolemite in the 1975 movie Dolemite, a fairly serviceable Blaxploitation film about a pimp who gets set up and enacts his revenge. It’s a pretty kick-ass movie, but it doesn’t hold a candle to its sequel, The Human Tornado. The film isn’t easy to describe, the plot is about how Dolemite, while running from a racist cop’s homicide prosecution, saved his friend and club owner Queen Bee from slavery at the hands of a rival club owner, and also rescued her dancers from a torture chamber in Pasadena. That sentence doesn’t do the movie justice, however, really the movie has something for everyone: comedy, action, drama, sex, dancing, music, and even a Brazilian guy with nunchucks. The kung fu fighting is really something to behold, and the soundtrack is absolutely awesome. In fact, Landspeed records re-released it recently, so be sure to pick it up if you like dirty funk music.


2. Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law, 1977
During a vicious lightning storm, a severely pregnant woman gives birth first to a watermelon, and then to a nine year-old boy who attacks the delivering doctor and then pounces on his own father for “stabbing me in my sleep.” And that’s all before the opening credits. Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-in-Law is a more plot-heavy movie than The Human Tornado, and follows a similar structure to most three-act plays. Petey Wheatstraw makes a deal with Satan to best the rival comic team of Leroy & Skillet, and then tricks the devil who wants Petey to marry his hideous, demonic daughter. The real devil here is in the details (har har), as Moore showcases some of his best comedy as well as the talents of other Black comics in his circuit. FYI, this soundtrack is pretty fabulous as well.


3. Disco Godfather, 1979
I seem to recall this movie was called The Avenging Disco Godfather when I first saw it around twenty years ago (sigh), but all internet evidence points to the contrary. In any case, Disco Godfather is definitely the most esoteric of The Dolemite Trilogy, and has the most experimental camera work and what could pass for special effects of the three films. It’s about a retired cop who tears up the disco club and the streets, cleaning house of the prolific PCP dealers that got his nephew hooked. Or something like that. All I remember is the last scene, where Rudy Ray Moore is forced to take PCP via a gas mask and endures the longest, most surreal hallucination scene in any movie. It’s worth sitting through for that payoff alone. And the soundtrack? Surprise, it’s fantastic!

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