Kevin Willmott's long-awaited JAYHAWKERS will premiere in Lawrence, KS for several screenings at KU's Lied Center Feb. 14 (7pm), Feb.15 (11 a.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m.) and Feb. 16 (1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m.). Tickets can be purchased at the Lied Center box office: 785-864-2787, or online on their website http://lied.ku.edu/
One of the main films that DJANGO UNCHAINED stole from homaged was this 1972 Fred Williamson classic with Fred as the aforementioned Charley, who we see as a baby in the Prologue as slavers are replenishing their stock by herding more Africans into a boat, which include Charley and his mom. Over the credits, we're introduced to Charley and his present life on the plantation - he's the blacksmith and his mom is the Top Mammy taking care of an ailing Master. Master is not long for this world, and Charley's Mammy gets Master to promise to free Charley. That doesn't set too well with Master's son (John P. Ryan - IT'S ALIVE, RUNAWAY TRAIN), who has no intentions on honoring his dad's promise and expresses his displeasure by beating Charley - who responds to this treatment by killing his white ass.
Charley then goes on the run with his friend, Joshua (Don Pedro Colley -THX-1138, SUGAR HILL) and one of the house servants, Toby (D'urbville Martin - BOSS NIGGER). They head West, with an avenging posse in pursuit. Stopping in a small town to make their stand, they encounter an old Black man, Shadow (Thomas Anderson) passing himself off as a Native American and a young Black gunslinger, Willie (Tom Pemberton), who throw in with Charley and his friends. After making short work of the posse, the group ends up helping a farming couple being terrorized by The Reverend (Joe Santos - THE ROCKFORD FILES). Lots of gunplay ensues, and people die as hard justice is dispensed - with Nigger Charley ending up as the Last Man Standing.
This holds up rather well as a well done B-movie; it's definitely among
the best of Williamson's roles and it's aided by a strong support cast,
much better than you'd expect in a film like this, and it is affecting
as they get killed off in the final battle - only D'urville Martin
survives to reprise his role along with Williamson for THE SOUL OF
NIGGER CHARLEY, which continues the Charley saga, providing ex-Confederate soldiers who cause havoc until Nigger Charley hands out some well-deserved ass kicking justice.
It probably ain't classic cinema, but NC holds its own as a successful combination of the Western and Blackploitation, with a patina of history about the black experience heading out West...
We present the first exhibit in evidence... MANDINGO.
It's kinda like shooting fish in a barrel to lead this series off with this title, which is far more notorious than seen, at this point. Shawn Edwards, a critic in Kansas City had this as part of his 'Soul Cinema' series at the Mainstreet Alamo Drafthouse, and it tied in perfectly with my intent - unfortunately, weather scrubbed my trip into seeing this bigscreen (and an actual film print), so out came the DVD copy for another look.
Quite a bit has already been written about the film, which has undergone a push towards critical rediscovery and reappraisal (among the first being Dennis Cozzalio of SERGIO LEONE AND THE INFIELD FLY RULE, and NOT COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU). Although the perception of the film, as lurid, trashy button-pushing melodrama that embarrassed everyone involved is not too far off the mark, the fact is that MANDINGO was a big hit for the studio and Dino DeLaurentiis at the time of its release. Critical reception to the film was very bad in the U.S. (it fared better with critics overseas), which caused the studio to have issues with it after it was made. There was no embarrassment on the part of the filmmakers, who took the subject very seriously.
Yes, the movie IS trashy melodrama, like the book that it's based on... there's no way around that. But the reason why the book became such a sensation (spawning ghost-written sequels, and an unsuccessful adaptation on Broadway) was that amidst all the melodrama and the sex, there was also the presence of what I term, "the stink of Truth". The intent of the author, Kyle Onstatt, might have indeed been to just write a trashy novel, but he was born at a time (1887 - MANDINGO was published when he was in his 70's!) when slavery's end was just a generation behind, but direct survivors were still around... and a good portion of the most outrageous behavior depicted has indeed been verified by accounts.
Even by the 70's, depiction of that time in the Black American experience was pretty limited on-screen, at least in America - foreign producers did finance the first hard looks at that period, and you may well notice the name of MANDINGO's producer... but this was, for an American studio, really the first time to tackle such a subject as a major motion picture. And for most of the audience, to see depicted explicitly the punishment of slaves, black children used as furniture, the slaveowner sleeping with his female slaves, was probably just too much to take, except as seen through the eyes of 'camp'. Of course, the bit that EVERYONE remembers who watches the movie is the coupling of slave owner wife Susan George with Ken Norton's title character.
But past all the luridness and sexual hijinks depicted (which were actually toned down for the film, believe it or not), is the hypocrisy that is present at the core of slavery, which the movie does confront unflinchingly; and that may be the real reason why this film gets under the skin of so many - there's no sentimental look at the Old South present here, only the goings on of what can happen when one group of people treat another group like property.
Olive Films finally released MANDINGO on DVD a few years ago, remastered but with no additional material for context... for that, you can refer to Paul Talbot's MONDO MANDINGO, a thorough look at the entire world of MANDINGO, from book to movie - and for a more direct comparison of book to film, blogger Greg Bunche took the plunge, scrounged up a copy of the book and tackled the bastard like a man.
OK, it's been awhile. I'm quite aware.
Things have settled down, and we're back on the horse again.
We'll start out with a project that I started to do sometime ago - but as things worked out, it's probably good that I procrastinated.
Court will be in session this week... you've just been served.