Last week saw the release of not one, but two films about previous films. And I don’t mean Batman Begins (which should be retitled Batman Starts for Essex). Inside Deep Throat, a documentary about the making of and the effect of notorious porn film Deep Throat. And Baadasssss!, Mario Van Peebles film about the making of his Dad Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The films have one key thing in common as well as being films about notorious 1970’s flicks. More people will probably see these films in the cinema in the UK than ever saw the films they are based on in the UK cinema.
Deep Throat never had a proper cinema release in the UK, not even in specialist porn cinemas. It has of course been seen by plenty of people on video, and everyone has heard of it and Linda Lovelace’s clitigottis. Sweet Sweetback was barely released, and is still unavailable on UK DVD (this may change soon). And the technical difficulties involved with 1970’s low budget film-making (particularly highlighted by Peebles) makes both films virtually unwatchable on a technical level. And yet both films are tremendously important as commercial blips : ones which may have suggested new genres which on the whole was not exploited. The idea of big budget adult films was torpedoed by video (see Boogie Nights for this point rammed home ad infinitum). And whilst Hollywood leapt on Sweet Sweetback as a template for Blaxploitation, the -ploitation bit of that word suggests that it was on the whole aimed at an audience, rather from the community for the community. Black cinema in the US is still a tricky area, all that could be said to come out of it recently are comedies like Barbershop. And whilst there are prominent black directors, they are busy making films like King Arthur and the Fantastic Four.
Black film still limps along. The idea of community cinema is a pretty old fashioned one now, and the great revolutionary movements such as Third Cinema and Cinema Novo now see quaint in their belief of film. But the Black Cinema supplement which came with this months Sight & Sound did manage to scatter some good priming articles about what should be the biggest black cinema audience of all: Africa. But African cinema struggles without access to even its own audience: (hooky) DVD seems to be the favoured distribution method.
Maybe it is good that Deep Throat did not explode porn into mainstream cinema (though the exploitation of video was hardly preferable). Mario’s very mixed portrayal of his Dad belies the fact that Mario’s directing career has not had a hit since Posse. Indeed as the film rolls on, we see how Melvin gets more and more unreasonable and how his son helps him through all. It may be a hagiography for his his Dad but with the wholly positively light he shines on himself, one wonders if he really wanted to call the film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Son.