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Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide

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This book recommendation is courtesy of our friends at The Museum of UnCut Funk
 
 
Dazzling, highly stylized, excessively violent and brimming with sex, Blaxploitation films enjoyed a brief and memorable moment in motion picture history -- and never before or since - have so many African American performers been featured in starring roles. Twenty-five years after they first thrilled audiences, Blaxploitation films are enjoying a robust renaissance. The genre, with its bevy of colorful, contemporary characters, irresistible soundtracks and catchy titles, has taken its rightful place among the entertainment industry's most enjoyed and influential films. Here's a new and appreciative look back at a distinctly American motion picture phenomenon, the first truly comprehensive examination of the genre, its films, its trends and its far-reaching impact, covering more than 240 Blaxploitation films in detail. This is the primary reference book on the genre, covering not just the films' heyday (1971-1976) but the entire decade (1970-1980). 

 

blaxpolitation-cinema.jpg

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True.  Blaxploitation should be kept in perspective.  In the process of caricaturizing a certain black sub-culture, Whites  a/k/a honkies were cast as buffoons and bad guys in these pictures while black characters were cool dudes who always outwitted their aversaries, and got the girl.  Yes, the black women were tough and sassy but these facades concealed their tender hearts. Blacks got to play the good guys in these films and they didn't have to wear white hats; that was left to villainous pimps and their outrageous outfits.  

 

People go to the movies to be entertained and diverted from the harsh realities of life.  Back then, Blacks needed a respite from the gloom and doom involved in struggling to acquire the equality that enabled a wholesome lifestyle. Munching pop corn and gulping a coke in a dark theater, they could live vicariously through super heroes who always came out on top.  Maybe next time they'd return to earth and buy a ticket to see some sentimental little tale about black folks celebrating little triumphs over their harsh existences. But until then...I 'm gonna git you, Sucka! Right on!

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Hey Maxx welcome to the boards.  Yes the book changed my impression of the genre.  Maybe 50 years from now I'll look back at commercial rap music with rose colored glasses,  Also I noticed your site has a few issues.  The site http://www.ybandg.com/maxxkbooks/ is framed in such a way the the link to order your books don't work. It should work but it is not, probably has to do with the originating website.  Also I can see the underlying URL's (you should read this article and note point #3 about affiliate Amazon affiliate codes).

 

Cynique, several of my favorite Black films are from that era, Cooley High, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Claudine, Uptown Saturday Night, the sound track for Shaft and Superfly were simply great (do Black film even have original sound tracks anymore?).  I could go on. 

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I agree with you all about that era. It was actually a very good time as far as I'm concerned. I guess the concern lied in the fact that this was post Civil Rights and those images were not what people wanted to be seen as... which doesn't make sense considering a lot of the imagery was of super strong brothers and sassy, tough sisters.

 

Troy there is no way in hell that commercial rap will ever be consider good. Ever. No lol, 

 

As far as Black films and soundtracks, He Got Game was scored by Public Enemy. Dope soundtrack. The movie Brown Sugar had an incredible soundtrack as well Mo Better Blues, The Wood, Panther and I can keep going on and on about Black films and soundtracks. That's the one thing we are still doing an okay job with is linking our films to music. Consider the Soundtrack of Love Jones was so well integrated into the film that we almost consider the album and the movie as one thing. 

 

Now the films made now aren't often scored by Blacks at all. Night Catches Us, which featured Black Thought of The Roots, was actually scored by the Roots. 

 

Blaxploitation wasn't that bad though Sweetback is still considered a modern classic. Isn't it?

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In the case of Shaft and Superfly, those sound tracks were scored for the film.

 

But the Love Jones soundtrack was a bunch of songs that already existed and used in the film.  The poetry was original (maybe) but most of the album was from various artists.

 

The He Got Game sound track does not really count either, and actually reflects one of the things I dislike most about Rap; simply taking music and changing the lyrics.  

 

 

 

Night Catches Us, was a film that very few people saw in the theaters.  I noticed it is on Netflix and Amazon prime so it can be watched for free. I actually have not seen the film and will check it out the first chance I get.  I looks pretty good and has an original score, that sounds good in the trailer.

 

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In your comments you said soundtracks, not scores which is why I added the movies like Love Jones and Brown Sugar. Those movies songs were created for the film then added to individual albums later or released as singles. Some of the songs were just added,but Hopeless by Dionne Farris was and is an incredible song. As far as the sampling in hip hop I love it when it's done well. When it is done well people are introduced to music they have never heard. What's even better those artists who are still around have started repaying the sample. Before Gil Scot died he was sampled by Kanye and countless others, but his last album sampled Kanye on both the beginning and end poem. He also cracked Billboards top 100 with Drake and Rihanna with "I'll take care of you". That's it for my defense of sampling. This is not another hip hop post.

I wrote a post on Night Catches Us. It's a solid film, but when we say soundtrack we should clear whether we are talking songs vs scores or we cloud the water.

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Oh Public Enemy actually didn't sample, they pulled the writer into the studio and recreated the song. But that soundtrack/score is dope! Unfortunately Public Enemy is an Indies band now and their extremely potent music is rarely heard though they are still cutting records.

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I think we spoke to soon. At least I did in regard to scores. Terence Blanchard has scored a number of films: http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/features/movies/11404787-171/new-orleans-grammy-winner-terence  He also won a grammy.

 

The RZA of WuTang scored one of my favorite films "Ghost Dog".

 

Herbie Hancock won an Oscar for scoring as well as Prince, but no Blacks have even been nominated for an Oscar for film score. I think a lot of Blacks don't even know that they can score films. Film isn't taught in high schools either so kids just aren't aware. I made it a point when I was teaching to have the students do screenplays and film short films to learn about scoring films and soundtracks and about producing a movie. Once again there is a root problem of the lack of education in flim. Overall though the Blaxploitation era was very important. Groundbreaking and possibly a golden era of film.

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As a side bar, is it generally known how frequently book titles are taken from song lyrics?    A line from a tune by Prince inspired the name of my book,  "THE ONLY ONE".  ;)  We've never discusssed the Minnesota sound that Prince was in the vangard of, along with "The Time".  I don't know whether they were considered hip hop or not, but "The TIme" was certainly one of the best groups around, and hold up well to this day.  Prince, of course,  is in a class by himself, I guess.

 

"I WANNA BE YOUR LOVER,

I WANNA BE THE ONLY ONE

TO MAKE YOU COME

RUNNIN..."

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The amount of groups influenced with that Minnesota sound is incredible.

Sheena Easton

Sinead o Connor

Sheila E

Vanity 6

Appollonia 6

The Family

The Time

Jesse Johnson Revue

Alexander O Neal

The list is long. I think there is always an allusion to music in text. Choosing a Prince title is perfect. I am definitely one of the biggest Prince fans of all time. While Prince isn't Hip-Hop technically, his dancing had a lot of B-Boy Elements and he often raps on many of his songs. Did you know Alexander Oneal (Fake, Weekend Love) was supposed to be the lead singer of The Time before Morris Day?

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Altho his name is not listed, Prince produced and sang on "The Time's" first album and then put the band together afterward. It may have been on this record that he listed the lead singer as Alexander "Nevermind". This name appeared on one of his cuts.  I'm not sure which one.  You forgot guitarist, Andre Cymone who before he got his own record deal, was Prince's original sideman. 

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That's right he did sing on the album as Alexander "Nevermind" which was also a nod to the fact that Alexander O'Neal didn't want to be controlled by the Purple One. I always overlook Andre Cymone, but I shouldn't. Just like I shouldn't forget Lisa and Wendy who went on the have incredible careers scoring soundtracks and writing music for a lot of people. Oh and the fact that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have produced some of the greatest pop songs ever, is a testament to Prince's reach.

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Sorry man I meant music created specifically for a film.  I did watch Night Catches Us saturday evening.  The film had a lot of good music in it, but most of it was from the period.  The main tune the Roots created for the film was good, but can't be compared to the work Mayfield or Hayes created for their respective films.

 

Again, my main point is that I'm not sure there has been any Black musician was has created original music for a film since the Blaxpoiltation era.  Of course I could be wrong, but I'm sure the film, as with many of our indies, did nothing at the box office.

 

I watched Red Hook Summer for the first time after watching Night Catches Us.  I enjoyed Night us much more.  I think Red Hook Summer had potential, but the story felt incomplete, the acting was uneven and humor fell flat. 

 

Spike showed up in the film still delivering pizzas as Mookie the character from Do the Right Thing, almost 25 years prior.  Now one would think, that would be a nostalgic addition to the film, but I could not help but think, "Oh Brother."  It was an unnecessary distraction.  Overall the film did not have the feel of an major motion picture release.  Kam and I are in agreement on this film's ranking.

 

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I know Quincy Jones scored "The Color Purple".  I checked and he also scored  "The Italian Job," "In the Heat of the Night," "In Cold Blood," and "Mirage," among others.

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I know this is gonna come off like I'm just moving the target , but I did mean Black films.  

 

The Color Purple would definitely be an example of what I'm talking about, original music for a Black film (this is an excellent sound track too). When was the last time we did something like this for a film?

 

Has there been anything in the last 5, 10 or even 15 years?

 

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I do think this is a direct reflection in the shift of music in the Black community. More important the lack of music in schools and the lack of interest in learning the craft of making music. Interestingly enough it is not the fault of Hip-Hop as it seems only the Hip-Hop community is attempting to score films at all in the Black community. I guess we could say Pharrell scored a film, Despicable Me, but that's not a Black film.  Then again, Hip-Hop isn't even scoring soundtracks. They are making albums, but not scoring. The closest thing we have to a person scoring soundtracks is Terrence Blanchard with Spike Lee. 

 

I do think Red Hook Summer was not very well constructed and relied on a lot of Spike's cinematic go to's as opposed to him reaching to break new ground. We know with Spike we are going to get the floating character shot and the erratic camera during dialogue, but it's not enough to cover the fact that Spike seems bored with indie film and is now fully entrenched in creating major films to pay the bills (which isn't a problem, get your money Spike). 

 

It is unfortunate that we don't have any major film scores being produced by Blacks though. However it isn't surprising at all when you consider that most of our art dwells in the realm of immediacy. Black music is no longer soulful in the mainstream. We don't have composers anymore. We only have producers. Guys just don't care for the music that much (generalization). We know this is not really the case though when we look at D'Angelo, Robert Glasper, Jose James and Timothy Bloom. We are making music and composing, but we aren't being chosen to score films.

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Seems like when I sit down in front of a computer, the electric waves - or whatever - radiate and stimulate my memory.  I find things popping into my head, tidbits from a vast store of trivia stored in my brain over the years.  Most of the things I write are off the top of my head, which is why I'm not that great on specific dates and I sometimes have trouble with names, recently referring to poet Langston Hughes as Langston Houston. :wacko:

 

Anyhoo, on the subject of sampling what jumped into my head is that this practice  goes waay back.  It just wasn't called sampling.  The origin of the jazz standards and classics, most often the solo ballads of saxophoists like Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, John Coltrane and later Paul Desmond sideman of Dave Brubeck, are songs taken from what is known as "the great American song book", or Tin Pan Alley,  hits from  Broadway and Hollywood musical from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s decades, composed by legendary musicans such as Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and others.  These saxophonists always injected little snippets from other songs in the course of the improvization that characterizes jazz. Jazz pianists and other horns did this,too, as did Be-bop horn men in their frenzy solos.  Music is not only universal it is timeless.; the old is new; the new is old.

 
Am I wrong in making a distinction between the music sound track of a moive, and the score of it, which would consist of the background music?  To me, if a black musician such as Quincy Jones scores that background music of a white movie, that's noteworthy.  And it's not as if Blacks scoring black movies was something that was common but does not  happen much anymore. They never did do this in great numbers. Furthermore, to me, scoring a movie is not that big a deal.  It's in a class with other behind the scene jobs such as make-up artists or stunt men, or script girls, or gaffers or best boys or camera men.  Blacks may be under-represented in this positions, too. But what's significant about this?  It's like everything else. 

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Very good point! You aren't wrong at all about the distinction. I honestly don't know very many people who purchase the score cd of a film. I do know a ton who purchase the soundtrack and in that case Blacks are doing very well.

 

Your point about the beginning with something else and starting your improv was featured in one of the best movies ever Finding Forrester. Just like you when I read these posts it often sparks a memory and that is a beautiful thing. Check out this scene. Forrester gives Jamaal some of his work to jump start his own work so that Jamaal can find his own voice. This is exactly what you are saying Cynique and this scene represents it beautifully.

 

One of the greatest writing films ever. 

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