Author Topic: Melvin Van Peebles tribute concert/screening  (Read 2652 times)

Offline Hypestyle

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Melvin Van Peebles tribute concert/screening
« on: February 27, 2016, 05:47:50 am »
Well, as long as I’m still stuck here in the D, I might as well enjoy certain special events while I can, and while some of our icons are still alive.

The performance theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit’s main fine arts museum) was packed.  First up was Burnt Sugar Arkestra, a nine-piece outfit (plus 3 singers) who played the entire Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaass Song soundtrack.  The set was about an hour long, and about midway, Mr. Van Peebles himself joined the group to chime in with some of his poetry and showing off some of his “moves”.  (He was wearing a yellow helmet-shaped cap that seemed to have wings or Viking horns coming out of it; between that and his herky-jerky semi-dancing, I imagine that this is what Flavor Flav might come to look like by the time he gets that age.)

The concert was followed by a somewhat hilarious but still bizarre audience Q & A session with Van Peebles.  A handful of folks gathered near the front of the stage to ask questions.  Seated and accompanied by an assistant, Mr. VP’s response to the first question (simplified: “what was the greatest challenge in executing your artistry?”) was a lengthy, very mumbly monologue that managed to get giggles out of the crowd before the assistant finally managed to pry out a more semi-definitive response of “Nothin’!”  The next question yielded a similar, calmly incoherent diatribe from the filmmaker.  The final audience member who got to speak, a young woman from the balcony, began what was likely a treatise on current state of affairs of black America, before audible groans and outbursts like, “Hey, y’all just start the movie!” prompted the handlers to bring things to a close and start the screening of “Sweetback”, a restored print on loan from another local museum.

I don’t think I had previously watched it all the way through, before.  Wow, this movie is trippy as hell; so much of it has a surreal quality, the narrative is almost secondary to the emotions projected throughout the different events and confrontations.
Enduring accolades to Mr. Van Peebles.   8)
Sidebar: I also didn’t know that John Amos was in this.  Neat.

*******From the Detroit Free Press********

DIA hosts Melvin Van Peebles, 'Sweet Sweetback' return
Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press 12:06 a.m. EST February 25, 2016

(Photo: Melvin Van Peebles)

It has been 45 years since Melvin Van Peebles made the influential 1971 box-office hit "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," but don't expect him to get all nostalgic about his achievement or the reasons he set out to make it.

"I did it because I wanted to do it," says the 83-year-old filmmaker, who has remained an icon of badass cool.
Melvin Van Peebles.

Melvin Van Peebles. (Photo: Courtesy Melvin Van Peebles)

Van Peebles has a long history of creative pursuits, from writing to acting to the visual arts. But he's best-known for creating the independent movie that Roger Ebert termed "a landmark in the birth of African-American cinema."

"Sweet Sweetback" had a huge impact, yet it didn't exactly become a staple of cable TV or revival houses. "It's probably one of the most significant, groundbreaking films that has been seen by the fewest amount of people," says Detroit Film Theatre director Elliot Wilhelm.

Detroit is getting a rare chance to experience the movie and its soundtrack at an event headlined by Van Peebles. On Friday, the famous director will join the Burnt Sugar Arkestra for a performance of his score for the film, followed by a screening of a restored 35mm print of "Sweet Sweetback" on loan from the Museum of Modern Art.

"Sweet Sweetback" is the story of a street hustler (played by Van Peebles) who was raised in a brothel and becomes a fugitive on the run after saving the life of a Black Panther being beaten by two white cops.

At the time of its making, Van Peebles already had completed directing for Columbia the 1970 satire "Watermelon Man," which starred Godfrey Cambridge as a white man who becomes black overnight. But instead of making more studio movies, he set out to do "Sweet Sweetback" on his own terms.

The self-financed project was made for a low-budget six figures and filmed in less than a month by a diverse crew with many newcomers. It was raw in emotions, experimental in style and delivered an angry statement on racism at a time when most films avoided not just that topic, but black characters in general.

Although revolutionary works like "Easy Rider and "Bonnie and Clyde" were changing the face of the industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the lack of diversity on the big screen was still overwhelming.

"The African-American community was largely being left out, except for also-rans and sidekicks, in most of the movies being made at that time," says Wilhelm.

Not so with "Sweet Sweetback." Van Peebles made his sentiments clear, including through an on-screen message that read: "This film is dedicated to all the brothers and sisters who had enough of the Man."

The movie was given an X rating, a fact touted on posters as "rated X by an all white jury." It opened in two cities, Atlanta and Detroit. In the Motor City, it played at the Grand Circus Theater (now the Detroit Opera House), where lines stretched around the block.

Wilhelm, who saw it during that initial run, can vouch for those lines. "It became a renegade, independent film that you simply had to see, in part because of the impression that there were people who didn't want you to see it," he remembers.

The film received a flood of negative reviews in 1971, including one from Susan Stark of the Detroit Free Press, who called it "an incoherent, hateful and hate-filled one-man opus."  But it became a huge financial success, earning what has been estimated at $15 million at the box office, and it  had a social and cultural importance that stretched far beyond its story line.

As Wilhelm notes, "Sweet Sweetback" helped inspire the 1970s genre known as blaxploitation, which put African-American actors in the leading roles of  low-budget action movies.

The do-it-yourself spirit of "Sweet Sweetback" extended to the soundtrack, which was composed by Van Peebles and recorded by Earth, Wind & Fire. Lacking the money for a big promotional campaign for the movie, he released the soundtrack album before the film actually hit theaters to help build publicity.
Burnt Sugar Arkestra. The band will appear Feb. 26

Burnt Sugar Arkestra. The band will appear Feb. 26 at the Detroit Film Theatre with Melvin Van Peebles for a "Sweet Sweetback Baadasssss Song" event. (Photo: Libby McLin)

The Burnt Sugar Arkestra, which will appear with Van Peebles at the Detroit Film Theatre, has just the right improvisational flair for such a collaboration.

The band was founded by noted jazz writer Greg Tate and has been co-led with bassist Jared Michael Nickerson since 1999. It has played around the world and "freely moves amongst many styles, eras and genres to devise its own exciting hybrids" that delve into the worlds of soul, jazz, hip-hop and rock with ease.

In 2009, Nickerson and Tate were introduced to Van Peebles, who shared his desire with them to do an interpretation of "Sweet Sweetback" for the stage. Nickerson recalls how Van Peebles went to the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City to see Burnt Sugar Arkestra perform and was pleased that the group was so diverse in terms of age, race and gender.

"He met us and we all got along really famously," recalls Nickerson.

The Burnt Sugar Arkesta, with Van Peebles, premiered a theatrical version of “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” in Paris at the Sons d’hiver Festival in 2010. The response to the two sold-out shows was tremendously positive.

Nickerson says he's thrilled to be part of the upcoming performance of the soundtrack in Detroit, during which Van Peebles will chime in with occasional vocals. "Sweet Sweetback" is still a film that Nickerson recalls as an unforgettable, astounding experience.

"I was in high school when I saw 'Sweetback' and I saw it at a drive-in theater," says Nickerson. "Those days when you were in high school, you only went to the drive-in for one thing: to get away from your parents and to  take your best girl into the backseat. Of course, when 'Sweetback' started, I never made it to the backseat. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

Burnt Sugar Arkestra
« Last Edit: February 28, 2016, 09:32:47 pm by Hypestyle »
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Offline Battle

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Re: Melvin Van Peebles tribute concert/screening
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2021, 03:08:44 pm »
Wednesday, 22nd  September  ~Two Thousand & Twenty One
Melvin Van Peebles, Godfather of Black Cinema Passes Away at 89
by Mike Barnes & Duane Byrge

Melvin Van Peebles, the pioneering African-American auteur behind the 1970s films 'Watermelon Man' and 'Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song', has passed.

He was 89.

Van Peebles, the father of actor-director Mario Van Peebles, passed away Tuesday night at his home in Manhattan.

His family, The Criterion Collection and Janus Films announced his passing in a statement.

“In an unparalleled career distinguished by relentless innovation, boundless curiosity and spiritual empathy, Melvin Van Peebles made an indelible mark on the international cultural landscape through his films, novels, plays and music,” the statement read.

“His work continues to be essential and is being celebrated at the New York Film Festival this weekend with a 50th anniversary screening of his landmark film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; a Criterion Collection box set, Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films, next week; and a revival of his play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, slated for a return to Broadway next year.”

Considered by many to be the godfather of modern Black cinema, Van Peebles was an influential link to a younger generation of African-American filmmakers that includes Spike Lee and John Singleton.

The Chicago native also was a novelist, theater impresario, songwriter, musician and painter.

Van Peebles was living in Paris when the first feature he wrote and directed, The Story of a Three-Day Pass, attracted attention and put him on the radar at Columbia Pictures.

The studio selected him to direct Watermelon Man (1970), a racial satire that starred Godfrey Cambridge as Jeff Gerber, a bigoted white insurance salesman who goes to the bathroom in his suburban home in the middle of the night and discovers he’s Black.

Very few African-Americans were directing in Hollywood at the time.

On the strength of that movie’s success, Columbia offered Van Peebles a three-picture deal but wanted no part of his next project, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971).

Helped by a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby, he wrote, directed, produced, scored and edited the renegade film while starring as its anti-hero, a ladies man with superhero lovemaking abilities who battles the corrupt white establishment in Los Angeles.

Van Peebles made Sweetback in 19 days for a reported $500,000.

It opened in only two venues, in Atlanta and Detroit, but fueled by strong word-of-mouth from working-class African-Americans and a soundtrack of music performed by Earth, Wind & Fire, the picture raked in more than $10 million, making it the highest-grossing independent film in history at the time.

(The opening credits note that the star of the film is “The Black Community.”)

In a 1997 book about the movie, Mario notes in the introduction that his father

“was forced to self-finance, constantly on the brink of ruin, his crew got arrested and jailed, death threats, and yet [at first] he refused to submit his film to the all-white MPAA ratings board for approval. The film then received an X rating. My dad, true to form, printed T-shirts that read, ‘Rated X … By an All-White Jury,’ and made it part of his marketing campaign.”

The New York Times called Van Peebles “the first Black man in show business to beat the white man at his own game,” and Sweetback ushered in the blaxploitation era in Hollywood.

(Before his film, 'Shaft' was going to be about a white detective, he said.)

After Sweetback, Van Peebles brought Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, his musical about Black urban life, to Broadway and received Tony nominations for best book and best original score in 1972.

A year later, he received another book nom for Don’t Play Us Cheap!, centering on a devil who attempts to break up a party in Harlem.

The two musicals garnered nine Tony noms in all.

Van Peebles also directed a 1973 film version of Don’t Play Us Cheap! as well as the action comedy Identity Crisis (1989), which starred his son.

He helmed and appeared with Mario in Posse (1993), a Western about African-American soldiers who mutiny against their racist white officer, and contributed a song,

“Cruel Jim Crow,” to that movie.

Van Peebles had a writing credit on the stock-car biopic 'Greased Lightning' (1977), starring Richard Pryor, and adapted his novel about the growth of the Black Panther Party into a 1995 movie, Panther, that was directed by his son.

In 2003, he was portrayed by Mario in Baadasssss (2003), a son’s homage to his dad.

And two years later, Van Peebles was the subject of a documentary, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It).

The son of a tailor, Melvin Peebles was born on August 21st, 1932.

He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1953 with a degree in literature, served for nearly four years in the U.S. Air Force and married a German woman.

After his discharge, he worked as a portrait painter in Mexico, then moved to San Francisco, where he ran cable cars.

Van Peebles also made three short films, beginning with the slice-of-life Three Pickup Men for Herrick (1957), which he hoped would serve as his calling card into the motion-picture industry.

But when he was unable to find directorial work in L.A., he, his wife and their children, Megan and Mario, moved to Europe.

In Holland, he studied with the Dutch National Theatre, did some acting and added the “Van” to his last name.

After his marriage dissolved, Van Peebles headed to Paris, where he authored five novels and wrote and directed his first feature, La permission, an adaptation of his novel about a love affair between an African-American soldier and a French woman.

It won acclaim in Europe, was retitled The Story of a Three-Day Pass for U.S. audiences and chosen as the French entry for the San Francisco Film Festival in 1967.

It was well-received by critics and festivalgoers, but few knew that the filmmaker behind Three-Day Pass was American and Black.

In a wonderful 2014 interview, Van Peebles said he insisted that the star of Watermelon Man be a Black actor (the character is only white in the first 20 minutes of the movie).

“You think a white guy can play Black but a Black guy can’t play white?” he asked Columbia execs.

He also changed the ending of Herman Raucher’s original script, which has the bigot waking up from a nightmare and back as a white guy.

“Being Black is not going to be a bad dream,” he said.

Van Peebles did promise the producers that he would film the original ending as well, giving them a choice but then “forgot” to do that.

A close-up of Cambridge’s butt is the first sign that informs the audience that something crazy has happened to Jeff Gerber overnight.

Van Peebles also did the music for the movie and appears in a cameo as a sign painter when Gerber opens his own business.

To get the owners — twin brothers — of the Detroit theater to open Sweetback, Van Peebles bet them a new suit, certain that his film would bring in more money than the movie they had at the time.

(He won.)

Before a screening of the film in April 2018 at the TCM Classic Film Festival, Van Peebles said,

“I haven’t had this much fun with clothes on in many years.”

Van Peebles also was in such films as Robert Atman’s O.C. and Stiggs (1985), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), Reginald Hudlin’s Boomerang (1992), Last Action Hero (1993), The Hebrew Hammer (2003) and Peeples (2013).

On television, he starred with Mario on the short-lived Stephen J. Cannell NBC comedy Sonny Spoon and appeared on All My Children, In the Heat of the Night, Living Single and Girlfriends.

Van Peebles won a Daytime Emmy and a Humanitas Prize in 1987 for writing an episode of a CBS Schoolbreak Special, “The Day They Came to Arrest the Books.”

He also was the author of Bold Money, a 1986 primer on how to trade stock options.

“Dad knew that Black images matter,” Mario said in a statement.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, what was a movie worth? We want to be the success we see, thus we need to see ourselves being free. True liberation did not mean imitating the colonizer’s mentality. It meant appreciating the power, beauty and interconnectivity of all people.”

« Last Edit: September 22, 2021, 03:28:39 pm by Battle »

Offline Emperorjones

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Re: Melvin Van Peebles tribute concert/screening
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2021, 10:37:01 am »
Chicago-born filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles made his feature debut outside America. He had to.

Offline JRCarter

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Re: Melvin Van Peebles tribute concert/screening
« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2021, 11:32:49 am »