Certificate: 18
Running time: 90 mins
Director: D’Urville Martin
Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin, Jerry Jones, Lady Reed
Genre: Blaxploitation, Comedy, Action
Country: USA

In the four decades of the films’ existence there are few Blaxploitation films that have been as influential to African American cinema and has done as much to entertain the masses regardless of race.

Dolemite (Moore) is back on the streets, having been framed by street rival Willie Green (Martin) and some corrupt police officers.  Back in the real world he sets about reclaiming his business empire which includes drugs and prostitution with the help of his loyal partner Queen Bee (Reed) and a gang of kung fu call girls.

The much imitated Rudy Ray Moore will be familiar to the cinematic masses regardless of whether they’ve ever seen one of his cinematic offerings or not, comics like Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker and Chris Rock have made a career out of performing weak and watered down versions of the man’s persona.  This era was one of two different types of exploitation cinema which I like to refer to as the black and the light green.  The “black” Blaxploitation films are exactly that, black funded, black cast and produced and as such are relatively low in production value but high on character vibrancy and tone.  The light green (which is made from mixing white and green) is the result of white creators and big money with a black surface, like Truck Turner and Coffy for example.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with these Blaxploitation films, on the contrary the two examples here are absolutely fantastic examples of cinema let alone Exploitation cinema but to fully experience and understand the thematics and messages of Blaxploitation cinema you have to release yourself from the safety chord and leap into the world of a character like Rudy Ray Moore.

Dolemite is the cornerstone of the “black” Blaxploitation movement with it’s all black creative influences showcase the relatively unheard voice of the inner city African American male.  Primarly, the Exploitation movement – especially the light green movement – populated it’s protagonist roles with strong females in order to provide the audience with a level of titillation that wouldn’t be available with a Moore.  It became that the inner city black male was the silenced voice of the Exploitation generation.  Enter Moore and Martin.  The film is cheap, incredibly cheap.  Having screened it in the first season of the Movie Bar it was surprising just how many times sets wobbled, mics appeared in shot and dialogue was inaudible as the sound operation struggled against the overwhelming battle that was production value versus production cost.  A pre-requisite for Exploitation cinema, at least in my book, is the films intent.  Dolemite strives to create a small time pimp version of The Godfather as two criminals’ battle territory and pride and to do so in a way that’s in keeping with the stand-up humour that made Rudy Ray Moore a name in the 1970’s.  Though it falls short with regards to presentation it succeeds in every other aspect and actually manages something which I’m sure wasn’t intended in that it’s incredibly endearing and sweet.  Art for arts sake is a divisive statement but Dolemite has it in abundance.

Rudy Ray Moore is fantastic!  That’s all that needs to be said; his screen presence is commanding and undeniable but the greatest thing about him is his belief.  It’s blatantly evident to anyone with eyes that Moore has absolutely no martial art skills whatsoever but it is conviction in the role that carries the fights beyond the shortcomings and has you cheering for him.  The Guy From Harlem similarly has fight sequences that fall short of any martial arts ability and is interesting how Loye Hawkins fails where Rudy Ray Moore succeeds and it’s down to his conviction, pure and simple.  D’Urville Martin (as Willie Green) gives an equally strong performance as Dolemite’s adversary.  In another time Martin, as an actor/director, would have become hot property and it’s a shame that Dolemite represents 50% of his directorial offerings.  Lady Reed (as Queen Bee) is without double the female performer of the decade.  She’s remarkable.  Granted her delivery is off kilter but in that excellent John Waters way that makes every line a scene stealer and if there’s any doubt of her consistency then all you have to do is check out The Human Tornado (book tickets here) to see that Lady Reed is a bona fide black diamond.

In typical Blaxploitation style the soundtrack is an absolute magnificent musical offering, cool and vibrant.  Filled with the steely blue attitude of Detroit and New York it’s has sculpted the psyche and expectations of a generation of cinemagoers.  It is so smooth, cool and funky that it’s still relevant, still popular and still referred to in any film that attempts to sell you a funk.

2001 saw LL Cool J make efforts to remark Dolemite, bringing the booty lovin’ pimp up to date for the 21st century.  Fortunately for all Blaxploitation fans and lovers of cinema in general the “star vehicle” died a death before it even hit pre-production.  Dolemite is without doubt the most important piece of Blaxploitation cinema to ever be viewed, a true gem.


Gabriel said...

Dolemite isn't really my cup of tea, but i always make an effort to understand/watch the cornerstones of all genres. Your post spiked my interest. thanks

John Baxter said...

Completely understand where you are coming from. On the surface Dolemite won't be to everyone's taste. Even when I programmed it Dolemite played alongside a film that was better received, cost more and was more accessible but those who stuck around for it really enjoyed it. It has that same anarchic energy that I find so beautiful that's present in John Waters and Frank Henenlotter films.

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