As Tambay noted not too long ago, Melvin Van Peebles is “80
years old this year and still going strong.”
What you see above is a picture I took of him at a festive
dinner held in is honor, back in April, at the Black Cinema House in Chicago. (My
first and last time I’ll ever use a cell phone to take a picture. I always use a
camera. I’m stubbornly old fashioned that way.)
Van Pebbles was back in his home town to make some personal appearances
and to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award
at the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival, as well as to give a live
performance at the fest, telling stories and singing with band
Burnt Sugar, the Arkestra Chamber, which he calls Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative because, as he says, they “make shit happen“ (which is pure Melvin).
At the dinner, his 1963 quite charming French short film Cinq cent balles, was shown, which I had
never seen before, and which was the film that eventually led to him directing his first
feature film, The Story of a Three Day Pass, just a few years later.
Before the screening, Van Pebbles regaled the gathering with
a very funny story of how Cinq came about, and it was then that one
realized that, with Van Peebles, we are seeing the last of his kind; That of the last true, genuine Renaissance Man.
Like Gordon Parks, Van Peebles was not only a filmmaker, but a composer, singer, novelist, actor, playwright, performance artist, raconteur, recording
artist with six records to his credit – the latest of which was released last
year – and even at one time a Wall Street broker.
You will be hard pressed to think of anyone who has
accomplished so much in so many different fields. Go ahead – name one.
Van Peebles followed (or rather, I should say follows because
he’s definitely not finished yet) no preordained
path, except only to follow his own interests and passions. For him, rules are
made to be broken, if not destroyed. Boundaries are made to be ignored, if not totally
He is the inspiration that any artist should follow.