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Revisit ‘The Story Of A Three-Day Pass’ On Melvin Van Peebles’ 80th Birthday (His 1st Feature)

Revisit 'The Story Of A Three-Day Pass' On Melvin Van Peebles' 80th Birthday (His 1st Feature)

If I may toss in my own little piece of acknowledgement of Melvin Van Peebles 80th birthday today (see Tambay’s post earlier today HERE).

For those who think that Melvin Van Peebles didn’t exist before Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, he made 2 feature films before that seminal work.

This is one of them – an exploration of contrasting European and American attitudes towards race, in 1698’s The Story of a Three Day Pass.

Taking place in the 60’s, the film centers on an African American soldier stationed in Europe. His Captain gives him a promotion and a three-day pass to take the weekend off, because he thinks he’s such an exceptional black man. And over the course of the 3 days, Turner, the film’s protagonist, meets a white French woman, leading to a love affair between the two. However, racial prejudice and other complications, brings the affait to a halt.

Harry Baird and Nicole Berger star.

What is considered Van Peebles’ Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) film, it was based on a novel he wrote in French, La Permission. It was shot in 36 days on a budget of $200,000.

The use of fantasy sequences, jump cuts, freeze frames, photo-montage, and other experimental techniques, give the film an surreal/dream-like quality. 

It was Van Peebles’ very first feature film, and, it was also the first feature-length film (on record) directed by an African American since Oscar Micheaux’s last film, 1948’s The Betrayal. So, from 1948 to 1967 (when Three-Day Pass was shot), a 21-year gap, there wasn’t a single feature-length, fictional scripted narrative film (on record) with an African American at the helm.

If anyone knows and can prove otherwise, please do so.

I know that William Greaves was working prior to 1968, but he only produced documentaries. 

Before Van Peebles made Three-Day Pass, it’s said that he couldn’t get work in the film industry in the USA, so, like many other African American artists did in those days, he went to Europe (France, specifically), and directed his first feature (aka The Story Of A Three-Day Pass) in France, with French money.

Cue critical acclaim (both abroad and in the USA) after it was selected for the 1967 San Francisco Film Festival organized by Black film critic Albert Johnson, and eventually Van Peebles landed a job in Hollywood, and then he made his first and only studio film in 1970, Watermelon Man

Here’s the trailer for The Story Of A Three-Day Pass (it’s incomplete, but there’s enough there to give you some idea of what it’s like). It’s on DVD:

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@ SonOfBaldwin, thanks for your extended hand and your apology is accepted. Now lets get down to the nitty gritty. But first, since we've all been known to wander off to roads untravled, I have to state MY basic points of contentions and then render my opinions accordingly. In order to do that, I'll use the theme "Whose eyes are you looking through?". Now, to fine tune this argument, it behooves me to ask myself and others the following questions. Do you have a prejudice against "this" particular type of films? What affects your reaction to a films (mood, mental attitude, physical condition while watching the film, physical envioronment, etc)? How much do your PERSONAL and HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE responses to particular aspects of a film affect your judgment ( i.e., actors in the film, the film's setting, the director, sexual material, violence, etc,)? Now SonofBaldwin, of course the most optimum words for this debate and/or my argument is "PERSONAL and HIGHLY SUBJECTIVE". To that point, what is a good story? What is a quality film? What qualities of a film makes it "relevant"? Any answers to those questions are bound to be subjective… wouldn't you agree? So, understanding and accepting your joy, love and finer points of Melvin Van Peebles works, which you so eloquently outlined, its time I take you in the world of Tyler Perry (put you up on a little something:-). Okay, here we go. Does American Film shape or reflect social and culural values? I believe it's the latter. Film does not create new truths for society. It CANNOT reshape a society nor person that is not ready for change. Believing that to be true, I am never embarrassed by anything Tyler presents, and I don't understand those feeling in others. How could something on a screen embarrass "me"? Now the question, WHOSE EYES are you looking through? But let me get to the brilliance of Tyler and his films. It goes without question that Tyler audience is comprised of people of color from all walks of life. So he's intelligent enough to understand the roads traveled during the black experience and use them to engage us in his narratives. One of those roads is pain, bondage and misery. Now, what did we do when we where locked in chains or locked in doubt ? What did we do to ease our pain? WE SANG! Yes lord, in the morning and before we went to bed, we sang songs to move our minds and emotional state to another place. On a personal note, I remember when I was locked in my addiction AND locked behind bar — I sang songs to releive some of my pain, if only for a moment. IT WORKS! Tyler give black folks something they can FEEL. He also brings us some of the best black singers the world has to offer. Speaking of actors, Tyler brings us the best black actors on the market. Heck, I'll rent a movie just to see the performance of one or two particular actors, black or white. Also, going back to the actors in Tyler's movie and how he uses them, unlike many black directors, he does not placate nor kowtow to those who champion the interacial couples theme. No NO, Tyler keeps it simply black, and I love him for that. A black man always kisses on a black woman. Moving on: "I find Tyler Perry's work unfunny, bland, overly-theatrical, poorly made, and simply embarrassing" ~ SonOfBaldwin. Okaaaay, now we're back to the question "Whose Eyes are you looking through?" Of course, in this incidence you're speaking for yourself, regardless of the "influences" that got you there, you own those feelings. Now, this comment is getting very long so let me see if I can bring it to a head. The majority of moviegoers do not have a pen and paper in their hands to write down their analytical viewpoint of a film in question. Movie watching is a subjective and emotional experience. I like to look at it as "What About A Time Called Now?". When I'm sitting in a theater or in my front room when a movie comes on, that's where I am at for that period of time. Without reservation, guilt or shame, if something makes ME laugh… I LAUGH. Now, speaking of "overly-theatrical and melo-dramatic… who said so and SO WHAT? I am suggesting that for many "overly-theatrical and mela-dramatic' is what they're looking for. And Tyler Knows that. Heck, 2 hours ago I watch a movie "Something The Lord Made" starring Alan Rickman, Mos Def and Kyra Sedgwick. Let me tell you, that movie was MELODRAMA MAMMY but it did the damn thang. I am suggesting that regardless of how some critics view or describe Tylers products, he give the black viewer something they can "feel" and relate to. RE: QUALITY. I have an analogy. Whatever gets the job down is all the "quality" I need. If I'm digging a hole to bury my stash of money, I don't care if that shovel is shiny, popular, or the sharpest one in the shed, as long as it digs the damn hole, I'm good to go. In short, film analysis (if that's the play of the day) requires us to repond sensitively to the simultaneous interplay of image, sound and movement on the screen. We must somehow remain almost totally immersed in the EXPERIENCE while we maintain a high degree of critical detachment. If not, we can be dead Fred looking through the wrong eyes.


By the way, the Netflix version is incomplete.


I'm just going to be the one to say it. Melvin Van Peebles is over-rated as a filmmaker and we tend to give him more credit than he deserves. Sweetback was NOT a good movie even though that's the one folks remember him for most. It was timely and struck the right cord at the right time, but it's not a good movie. Story Of A Three-day Pass gets the same side-eye from me. The one film he did that was actually decent is the one that gets the least attention. Watermelon Man is by far his best movie, and it's not even great. It's cool. I liked it. But he hasn't made many films in the first place, so there's not much to compare, contrast or identify any "progress." He's really still ripping the fruits of Sweetback and probably will forever. Now I'm gonna duck to avoid projectiles being directed at me.


One of the best films of black cinema.


I didn't like the movie one bit – period. I watched the movie out of curiousity. Melvin was in the Air force and so was I, and this movie centered on an African American soldier stationed in Europe (just a little sumtin' sumtin' to draw me in. Anyway, I was also curious to see what movie(s) lead to Mr. Peebles getting the funding for "Sweetback?". Anyway, there was nothing about "The Story Of A Three Day Pass" that I would champion. Nope, not the acting, the dialog, the "message", nor the main character's love affair would I shout about. In fact, I believe I didn't even make it to the end of the movie. It was that Blah.


Wow that looks amazing

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