In my piece
about the upcoming Blu-ray DVD release later this year of Melvin Van Peebles’ “Sweet
Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” as a joint venture between the specialty DVD labels Xenon
Pictures and Vinegar Syndrome (HERE), I reported that “Sweet Sweetback” was the
first of several important independent black films from the 60’s and 70’s that the labels would be
jointly putting out together later this year and next year.
of those releases will be Van Pebbles’ first feature film “The Story of a Three
Day Pass”. Made in 1967 in France where Van Peebles was living at the time, the
film was based on his novel “La Permission,” and deals with a conflicted U.S.
Army solider stationed in France, who’s given a three day pass by his commanding
After a day of
wondering around Paris, he meets a young white shop clerk and they have a
whirlwind weekend romance in which he encounters racism and roadblocks along
the way all leading up to a bitter ending.
journey to making “Three Day Pass” was an interesting one. After making a few
short films in the U.S. during the 1950’s and unable to find work as a film director, he
left for Europe landing in France after a stint in The Netherlands working in
theater. After having his short films shown at the prestigious Cinémathèque
Française, he knew he had experienced a life changing event.
As he once
said in an interview after his films had been screened at the Cinematheque: “They
screened my films, everybody kissed me and then they drove off. And I’m
standing there with two wet cheeks, three can of films, not able to speak a
single word of French and not having a penny in my pocket. So I decided right
then that I was either going to make it or die here in France.”
So he started
to learn French little by little, and started writing plays and several novels,
one of them being “La Permission.”
Around this time
he discovered a French law which stated that a French writer could get a card
in the French film director’s union, even if the writer hadn’t previously made
a film in France. So Van Peebles got his card, and made a short film titled “Cinq cent
balles” in 1965, only to follow that up with “Pass” two years later.
was “Pass” that got Van Pebbles his one and only opportunity to direct a
Hollywood studio feature film, “The Watermelon Man,” because the Hollywood execs, after seeing “Pass” at U.S. film festivals, thought Van Peebles was a white French film director.
But “Pass” itself is a pretty unique film, and like all of Van Pebbles’ films, it’s
hectic, somewhat rough around the edges, but with all sorts of striking visual ideas
features the first version that I know of, of the “floating” guy-standing-on-a-dolly-track
moving shot, which I have always suspected that Spike Lee saw as a film school
student, and said to himself “WOW! That’s a really cool shot! I think I’ll use
that in bunch of my movies.”
Now “The Story
of Three Day Pass” is coming out on Blu-ray through Xenon Pictures and Vinegar
Syndrome, sometime early in 2016, once, presumably, restoration work has been
done on the film.