Nixon, white supremacists, gratuitous nudity and shocking camera work. John reviews the exploitastic Black Dynamite…
As a phenomenon, the Blaxploitation films of the seventies could be easily dismissed as a fad, a new direction for white studios to mop up ethnic pocket money. You might choose to decry the quality of the productions, the sense of the stories or the stereotypes rampant throughout the characterisations of the winning black man and the racist forces that try to keep him down. If you do subscribe to those notions, then you might find yourself missing out on some terrific entertainment.
Films like Three the Hard Way, Black Belt Jones and Hell up in Harlem may be quite ludicrous, quite sexist and based on no planet that we’ve ever lived on, but they are great fun. Their populist overblown stories are fables of empowerment, simple wish fulfilment where the world is turned on its head and the masters get their asses kicked by Jim Brown, Jim Kelly et al. As political tracts they are hardly Marx, as drama they are not Chekhov and that is rather the point. Blaxploitation films often knew that they were silly and outrageous but they just enjoyed living an unlikely liberationist dream.Scott Sanders and Michael Jai White have taken every nonsense plot of these movies, the outrageous action set-pieces and the dodgy characters and gone to town with Black Dynamite. Jai White plays the titular character who is equal parts renegade CIA agent, pimp come youth worker and bad-ass sex machine. Dressed in elaborate pimp suits and then in Jim Kelly choppy socky kit, Jai White’s Black Dynamite is emancipating with his fists whilst the ladies swoon at his attentions.
The ultimate black proto political sex god is played straight-faced as the nonsense erupts around him. His murdered brother, shady Mafiosi, hot mama black panthers and a conspiracy involving shady politicians, the security services and fascist kung fu chemists – Black Dynamite will overcome, he’ll endure and ass will be whupped. Nicely grainy visuals with deliberately amateurish craft homage the inspiration of those cheaply produced 70s flicks, as does a soundtrack that nods to Superfly, Trouble Man and Shaft. The sheer good humour and affection would be enough to make Black Dynamite an entertaining watch, but it also has a tremendously outrageous brio and competence which should stop you from simply seeing this as the work of enthusiastic fans.
There are numerous laughs and a knowingness that endears the work to the modern viewer, not to forget a care taken in costume and mise en scene that says this was hard work as well as a great time for the ensemble cast and crew. Others have tried to pull this kind of thing off before with much more in the way of resources but the likes of Undercover Brother are not in the same class as Black Dynamite.Catching the spirit of the original films whilst remaining funny in its own right, Black Dynamite is damn fine.
The film is released on a dual layer region B encoded disc, and the transfer is framed at 1.78:1 despite a reported OAR of 1.85:1. As is mentioned above the film itself carries a bit of grittiness and artificial ageing in order to mimic its antecedents, and the transfer is not outstanding in terms of contrast because of this. I don’t see any obvious mastering problems though with excellent detail in light, appropriate colour and a lack of edge enhancement. So I believe this is a pretty faithful transfer representing the film-makers’ intentions.The sound is less deliberately “aged” and presented in two options of stereo and 5.1. Both tracks are perfectly good, but this is such a good soundtrack and carefully assembled project that I enjoyed having the mix around me. The dialogue is front on and the effects and music utilise the sides and back more. Again, there was little in the way of mastering issues to report and I would say I was pleased with this A/V treatment.
Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders contribute to a number of the featurettes offered here, and it becomes clear that a lot of the writers and creatives also act in the film. 70s back in action has White talking about thinking up the project courtesy of James Brown’s Superbad and access to a pimped wardrobe. Sanders and other key cast contribute in between short clips of the finished film.
Lighting the fuse follows the same format and gives more insight into the affectionate parodic elements of the film by discussing its inspirations, before moving on to casting, costume and music. The music also generates a music video and a delightfully composed featurette joining archive footage and interviews from the artists behind the sounds.
Main cast and crew are caught giving a Q&A session in the final extra to mention. They are a jolly bunch with genuine enthusiasm for the work who are very open about their cinematic stealings.
Black Dynamite is a blast which will be enjoyed by fans of the original Blaxploitation flicks and by those wanting a solid laugh as well. This is a decent DVD release with plenty of talk from the rather engaging cast and crew.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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