Almost a year ago, I mentioned on this blog that the greatest black film ever made, “Dolemite” (O.K., I admit a tiny bit of hyperbole here), was at long last coming out on blu-ray DVD. But after that announcement, nothing happened. However, now I can finally say with certainty that distribution company Vinegar Syndrome is definitely releasing the film this month, April 26th.
Released in 1975 and starring the genuinely brilliant comic Rudy Ray Moore (who passed away in 2008 at the age of 81), “Dolemite” is by no means a good film. In fact, it prides itself on being what it is. A super low budget, sloppily made (the kind where the boom mic keeps dropping into the frame – yes it’s that kind of movie), ramshackled wreck of a film that’s nothing more than a huge ego trip vehicle for Moore. But that’s the glory of it. Everyone involved in the film knew it, and they didn’t give a rat’s ass.
Most filmmakers’ usual intentions are to try to make the best film that they can. Even if it’s schlock, they want it to be the best schlock possible. “Dolemite” dispenses with all that. It has a genuine “F–K all ya’ll” rebellious “black attitude” that’s almost liberating.
And it’s just flat-out hysterical – the intentionally and the unintentionally funny scenes. The film is just a blast from beginning to end. Its making-it-up-as-we-go-along storyline is not really all that important. It’s more interested in set pieces where Moore gets to do his thing – rapping (he made legitimate claims that he was the first real rapper), telling dirty jokes and displaying some of the worst martial arts fighting ever caught on film.
For the record, Moore plays Dolemite – a pimp (but of course, what else would he be?) who was set up to be busted by his rival Willie Greene (D’Urville Martin), who plants some drugs and illegal weapons in his car. Thanks to the efforts of his stable of women (who also practice their kung-fu when they’re not out turning tricks), Dolemite gets out of jail and goes after Greene for revenge. Well, eventually, that is, after more jokes, gun fights, nightclubs acts, scenes that make no sense, that have nothing to do with the plot, and Moore doing his thing.
But to understand “Dolemite” better, you need to understand Moore, who was a comic genius. After getting out of the U.S. Army, Moore started out as a singer in the 1950’s, singing both country music and R&B, while also doing some comedy on the side. By the early 1960’s, he started releasing comedy albums, but still living a hard-luck life, making little money and not getting anywhere.
In the late 60’s, his luck began to change.
Inspired by a local homeless man he would regularly see in Los Angeles, who told wild stories, Moore created the character of Dolemite, and started making some of the wildest “party” comedy records ever made. But while other black comedians of the time dealt with topics such as race, politics, and relationships, Moore only had one thing on his mind – SEX. Raw, nasty, sweaty, unadulterated sex. His world was that of pimps, hookers and hustlers.
His albums were some of the filthiest comedy albums ever made, with titles that left nothing to the imagination, such as “Eat Out More Often”, “This Pussy Belongs to Me”, “Cockpit” and “Close Encounters of the Sex Kind”. And many of their covers featured a naked Moore surrounded by naked women (and yes I have those LPs, and they hold a place of honor in my collection).
Not only were they played during house parties, but they were not recorded in a studio nor live on stage in some auditorium, but were taped in small nightclubs where you could almost hear the clinking of the ice in the drinks, with the raucous laughter from the small audience.
The records were huge successes, so it wasn’t surprising that Moore would turn his attentions to the movies. But in a genius move, too acutely aware of his vast limitations as an actor, and instead of playing some character, Moore simply played himself.– raw, foul, crude and screamingly funny. And it should be obvious that many rappers such as Snoop Dog point to Moore and Dolemite as a major inspiration.
The film was directed by D’Urville Martin, which was his sole directing effort. After playing bit roles and small supporting parts in Hollywood movies, such as the elevator operator in Roman Polanski’s horror film classic “Rosemary’s Baby”, Martin found his place when the Blaxploitation film craze happened in the 1970’s. He was everywhere, almost always playing major supporting roles as someone’s crazy, funny sidekick. But with “Dolemite,” he branched out to direct, which turned out to be his career highlight, when he died suddenly, too young, in 1984 at the age 45.
So finally Vinegar Syndrome is releasing the film on Blu-Ray as part of a series of new releases of seminal indie black films made during the 60’s and 70’s, including the recently announced “Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song,” and “The Story of a Three-day Pass,” to be released later this year as well.
And not surprisingly the disc will include a whole host of extras including a “making of” documentary, a hysterical commentary track by Rudy Ray Moore biographer Mark Jason Murray, two framing options (the intended 1.85:1 widescreen version and an alternate full frame ‘boom mic’ version; what did I tell you?), and a bunch of other goodies.
The only huge disappointment is that there aren’t any plans for a Blu-Ray release of the sequel, “The Human Tornado”, which is perhaps ever better than “Dolemite.”
Here’s the NSFW trailer for “Dolemite” (or at least use headphones):