The Disco Godfather

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: J. Robert Wagoner
Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, Carol Speed, Jimmy Lynch
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Blaxploitation
Country: USA

Retired cop Tucker Williams is making a new life for himself as a DJ.  Dubbed the “Disco Godfather” by his loyal followers, life is looking pretty sweet for Tucker; that is until his nephew Bucky threatens to throw away a promising basketball as he becomes hooked on PCP.  Stepping out from behind the decks Williams wages war on the mean streets in an effort to crush the street rats he wasn’t able to stop when he walked the thin blue line.

Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite) is a deceptive figure.  Many people remember the man with a laugh and a smile as he was the constant joker, his black Christmas albums were always fun of “joy” and his patented brand of Kung Fu, or Kung Funk is hilarious.  There’s a lot more to Moore than sex with white women and martial arts.  The history of African American cinema recognises Dolemite as an incredibly influential force on those following D’Urville and Rudy in front of the camera.  It is a film that has been referenced, reworked and robbed by every actor/director from the Wayans brothers to John Singleton but The Disco Godfather is, or should be, as important and influential.  The film is largely overlooked as a bit of fun.  The title is funny, the star dressed like a black Liberace and is filled with more audible hits than a Bruce Lee movie but there’s so much more going on.

The narrative carries with it a serious message.  It’s one that is as relevant today as it was in 1979 and while sentences for “street” drugs are higher than their pure/expensive counterparts will be relevant for many more years to come.  Wagoner’s screenplay and Moore’s performance addresses the problem of drugs, lack of opportunities and the almost generational system of black-on-black crime.  As angel dust sweeps the streets, and in the pursuit of narcotic profit, many young and promising men, women and children are caught up in the cycle of supply and demand (even if the demand is little more than a demand for the pain to stop).  It’s not just the narrative that carries a strong anti-drugs message.  Many of the under-the-influence scenes are incredibly powerful, experimental and unnerving.  Bucky’s courtside attack and the lady who serves her six month old son up on a silver platter at a family dinner but two to mention.  This is a far cry from the fun loving times of The Human Tornado and is a perfect example of what truly makes a great Exploitation film.  That ideal of striving to achieve more, to make more of the movie than perhaps the narrative, budget or (in some occasions) even talent will allow.  The dialogue is cut straight out of 42nd street.  It’s brilliant, vibrant, beautiful and another example of how Moore is trying to make a stand against something that he sees as a problem in society.  All too often in drugs related Exploitation cinema the anti-drugs voice is a white male.  He’s a suit.  A square.  A dullard and it’s showcased in his use of language.  He’s not someone that the audience can relate to, and his irrelevance allows for the audience to disregard his message, “ah that’s not for me”.  But not here.  Williams, though a retired cop, is probably the coolest character in the entire movie.  It’s Rudy Ray, does that even surprise you?  He speaks the language of the street, the language of the kids and in doing so makes the anti-drugs, PCP is whack message one of great relevance.  Such is his influence over African American cinema that if he was alive his influence on any subject would still be supremely strong.

Moore (as Tucker) is perfect.  He’s excellent as Dolemite but I always saw a degree of grace to the way he carried himself that was never possible to portray in Dolemite without seriously altering the character.  Williams is that character.  He’s urban, he’s a fighter, he’s a dominative alpha character in a blue diamante clad jumpsuit and fake eyelashes yet somehow he pulls it off.  Hawthorne James gives an unnerving performance as Stinger Ray, the local PCP pusher.  He has a physical presence and in years to come would certainly grow into his striking self, yet in The Disco Godfather you can see the nucleus of what he would become.  Jimmy Lynch (Sweetmeat) is an excellent nemesis for the Disco Godfather though he reminds me a lot of Willie Green (Dolemite) but then that could be part of the critique of the drug culture – all dealers are alike.  Julius Carry nearly steals the show as Bucky.  His on screen energy seems at first glance to be chaotic and crazed.  He’s a PCP victim for sure.  Yet at a second look you realise just how controlled and skilled an actor he is.  Narratively The Disco Godfather has a lot of similarities with Coffy but it’s being able to relate to Bucky (in a way that wasn’t possible with Coffy’s sister) that sells the story and the DJ’s crusade against the street rats.

The film earns it’s place in Exploitation history in the final third.  As Williams takes to the streets we’re treated to a high octane mix of martial arts and experimental drug fuelled imagery that seeks to represent an accurate psyche of those wrapped in the confusing haze of a PCP dream.  The film has genuine soul, not just soul in a disco kind of way but soul that comes from having a meaningful thing to say and knowing that your message is best delivered with humour, style and fun.  Very rarely will you read a review so one-sided, very rarely will you experience a film that’s so one-sided in the creation of emotion.  The Disco Godfather achieves everything it sets out to do, it’s a fun, entertaining, soulful, kinetic, chaotic piece of Exploitation cinema that leaves you ever so slightly haunted.  Perfect.


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