So many people know from Gordon Parks’ filmic take on Ernest Tidyman’s black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks. So many know that Super Fly makes a fortune by and by. Quentin Tarantino name-drops The Mack in his True Romance screenplay. And Mevin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song has found its place in history as the film that fired the first shot (though it could be argued that Van Peebles’ own Watermelon Man got the ball rolling one year before Sweetback).
But far too few know the Man of the Hour…
“…the Tower of Power…too dog-gone sweet to be sour. I’m fine, dee-VINE, and guaranTEED to blow your mind – It is NOW…Godfather time.”
It was with those words that Rudy Ray Moore’s Tucker Williams took up the wheels of steel and brought the roller boogie back from the brink and back to the rink.
Yeah, I know – you might know who Rudy Ray Moore is. You may have seen the classic Dolomite – or its superior sequel, The Human Tornado (and if you’ve not – do so. Go ahead – treat yourself). But chances are you’ve never seen Moore’s Disco Godfather (a.k.a. Avenging Disco Godfather). And if you have, chances are you’ve never seen another movie like it – even after you went looking.
Tucker Williams is an ex-cop (so you know he’s one tough son of a bitch) – but he’s also the owner of Blueberry Hill – the hottest nightclub in the city (so you know he’s one cool cat). This backstory is a somewhat odd move for Moore, as his characters – especially the ones derived from folklore – are always total outsiders. By positioning Tucker Williams as a one-time officer of the law, Moore placed this character closer to “The Man” than any character he’d played previously. But he’s still on the periphery, so he can always disregard the rules (like the aforementioned John Shaft) as he searches for payback.
Payback, you ask? No you didn’t – you already knew. What Blaxplo masterwork isn’t all about (the Big) payback?
It’s a hot summer night, and Blueberry Hill is jumpin’. The Godfather – a superstar DJ (who twists random knobs as one track plays – I didn’t even hear a crossfade) whose enthusiastic raps and original phases (yes, “phases” – watch the end credits) keep the audience enthralled – commands the cuts as his nephew Bucky (played by The Man Who Would be Shogun of Harlem, Julius J. Carry III in a role so early his name has “introducing” in front of it) shows off on the dance floor. Bucky is a big-time baller – all set for the NBA – but a bit of peer pressure and a moment of weakness threaten to tear his dreams asunder. As he and his girl Yolanda descend the Hill, a few shady dudes ask Bucky to get high with them. Despite Yolanda’s protests, Bucky smokes up.
Moments later, a panicked Yolanda bursts into the club, sobbing to Tucker. She says that Bucky’s messed up on Angel Dust. The Godfather, completely unaware of the dangers – or even the existence – of Angel Dust, but worried nevertheless (he pleads to her with one of the film’s signature lines – “Where IS Bucky…and what has he HAD!?”), orders Yolanda to “call an ambulance – and when they get here tell I want you to tell them what he has had!”
Just then, Bucky stumbles back into the Hill and gets completely whacked-out on the dance floor…and we crawl into his mind’s eye to bear witness to his PCP-dipped nightmare – a blast of imagery that, whether by design or by ineptitude (and I’m not entirely sure which way I lean), is surreal enough to be truly off-putting. We get rotoscoped flashes of creepy peeps with glowing eyes (and fingernails), basketball defenders with guns, and The Angel of Death.
Or…”Pucci Jhones AS The Angel of Death”. Pucci Jhones AS The Angel of Death is the scariest shit of all times. Imagine Pazuzu as a crackhead wielding a machete and a bad weave…and cry yourself to sleep.
Bucky dashes back out into the street, where he is apprehended by Doctor Fred Mathis (Dolomite and Human Tornado screenwriter Jerry Jones), who’s so smooth (or high) that wears his sunglasses at night. He senses Tucker’s confusion with regard to this new drug epidemic, and so he invites him to the PCP ward he runs at the local hospital. Tucker sees firsthand the shattered lives PCP leaves in its wake – and when we see the tortured beings shuffling, sputtering, and twitching around the room, we come to realize that this is one of Dave Chappelle’s favorite films. Every one of his twitchy, shambling, ashy junkie characters is here.
Dr. Fred tells The Godfather that there is little hope for these lost souls (including one girl who roasted her infant alive for a holiday meal) – but one family believes that JESUS can save their child (which, I guess, is pretty logical – since Angel Dust comes from the angels…and Jesus lives with the angels).
With his hopes for his nephew’s bright future destroyed, the Godfather promises to take down the angel dust manufacturers destroying his neighborhood.
Being a pillar of the community, Tucker visits his one-time commanding officer, Frank (Frank Finn). He lays out his plan to make noise in the pusherman’s backyard, and asks for “reserve status” within the department. Finn grants his request, and the stage is set for another signature moment.
Tucker leaves the precinct, and a weary Finn takes a seat, picks up the phone…then just…stops. And then he says – to absolutely no one in particular:
There are only three things you can do to that man to really get him uptight, and one of them is to mess with his family. He’s gonna’ turn over every stone in this city until he finds the main man. And when he does…all hell is gonna’ break loose.
AND THEN HE HANGS UP THE PHONE.
It’s one of the most transparent bits of exposition in the history of cinema – and no, we don’t get to know what the other two things are that make the Godfather uptight. I’m thinking maybe stuffing with too much celery in it. I know that ticks me off.
Back on Blueberry Hill, Tucker’s Girl Friday Noelle (Carol Speed of Abby and The Mack) is touring the premises with a female reporter who’s doing a piece “on the disco-dance craze – you know, “why it’s happening?”
“As you can see,” Speed tells her, “to be a member of the Disco Squad…of the Godfather’s – you have to get funky and get down.”
So…it’s not enough to merely get “funky” or get “down” – when you’re on the Godfather’s Disco Squad, you have to be able to do both – and you might required to do so simultaneously, which – taxing though that may be – is a damned sight less difficult than the responsibilities foisted on some of the “squads” in Rudy Ray’s previous films (high on the list: weak martial arts skills and the ability to fuck doughy, oily, translucent white guys without puking).
But Speed’s dialogue there…the phrasing (or is that “phasing”) of it – the “of the Godfather’s”?
A screenwriter obsesses over dialogue. He/she tries to write passages that serve the story, clarify character, and engage an audience all at the same time – but they must serve these goals with an economy of words. There’s no choice but to be concise.
So you hear a line like that – a line that’s a great deal less than concise – and you say to yourself, “Wouldn’t it have been better to say – “As you can see, to be a member of the Godfather’s Disco Squad, you gotta’ blagoo-zabba…?”
It’s in that moment it dawns on you. This film doesn’t have a complete script. They’re winging it.
And Buddha bless them for it – because that little burst of awkward syntax births a torrent of demented dialogue the likes of which you’ve never experienced before. Nothing Torgo says in Manos: The Hands of Fate…nothing Criswell has ever uttered…no awful dubjob from Italy or Asia…
Tucker uses this chat with the female reporter to lash out against those who would mess up his neighborhood with their PCP, in the hopes of bringing the criminals out into the open, and galvanizing the people. Both of these things do indeed come to pass, and both lead to a couple of the film’s funniest moments.
Tucker steps into his office to discover two guys tapping his phone – and he engages them in a hilarious martial arts melee. During this sequence we discover that not only is Tucker a master of unarmed combat, he also appears to be psychic – since he displays a penchant for reacting to his opponents blows before they connect.
Which looks a lot like this:
After the Godfather thwarts Tuckergate, we’re introduced to local businessman Stinger Ray.
Stinger Ray is a hilariously OTT character, memorably essayed by James Hawthorne – a guy with a pretty awesome career. Moving back and forth between television and film for over twenty-five years, Hawthorne has worked with all of the greats – Jamaa Fanaka…Ted Lange…Robert Townsend…Phil Joanou…Jan DeBont…
…Oliver Stone…Stephen Spielberg…David Fincher – to hell with Kevin Bacon – you could seriously connect James to everyone in Hollywood in, like, two moves. And while Disco Godfather is an unsung classic, Hawthorne reached new heights in the blaxploitation genre with his performances in The Color Purple and Amistad.
Anyway, Stinger Ray has his…stingers in a lot of pies – when we meet him, he’s talking to the press about his plans to start a new basketball league, to “show the NBA a thing or two.” His plan?
“…picking up the rejects – the guys who didn’t make pro!”
Hm. I guess it’s a good thing Stinger’s all diversified? If going head to head with the NBA by creating a league filled with guys not good enough to play in the NBA doesn’ t work, he’s always got his MASSIVE ANGEL DUST LAB to fall back on.
Of course, we discover this detail long before the Godfather does – so as not to be deprived of the classic “Hero Hits the Streets Looking for Info” montage.
Shortly thereafter, we’re whisked off to what appears to be a loading bay out back o’ the Moo & Oink, as the entire community (read: sixteen to twenty really confused African-Americans of all ages) participate in an Anti-Angel Dust rally.
In a film that features hallucinations and exorcism (oops – I gave that away), it’s this protest that ends up the most surreal thing in the film. Speakers address the crowd with utterly confusing blather – at one point, a former dustie steps to the mic to recount her “traumatic experience” of “Wack Attack”:
Before I introduce Dr. Fred to you…I would just like to say a word about the terrible drug Angel Dust. It is by far…the most dangerous stuff…that one could get in to. And believe me I speak from experience. If hadn’t been for Dr Fred here, who caught me before it was too late…I could be here to tell you…what hell could go through. So please leave it alone if you haven’t. Start. Don’t.
It just gets worse. Dr. Fred addresses the assembly in an attempt to educate:
This Angel Dust…that goes under many different names. PCP…Angel Dust…Wack…alias Angel of Death.
So then, by “many”…you meant “four” – good call.
The few people hanging out at this so-called protest cheer for no reason. And then they forget to cheer when they’re supposed to, and an actress repeats her line again in the hopes that the crowd remembers that it’s their cue to cut loose – and they just go ahead and leave that in.
And your left sitting there…just…staring at your television…wondering if that happened the way you thought it did. And it really did.
Meanwhile, the Jesus-freak family of the girl who served Baked Baby with Pureed Carrot Stuffing gets the girl released into their care – and they’re going to perform an exorcism. Expect a visit from Pucci Jhones AS The Angel of Death!
This sets up an incredible three-pronged assault on the senses at the film’s close. But I’m getting ahead of myself, here – I’m completely glossing over the police corruption subplot…the assassination attempt at Blueberry Hill…the Wild West Reject attack…and the Utterly Random Karate Showdown.
As Tucker descends on Stinger’s warehouse, he’s accosted by Ray’s security. At that exact moment, a jogging passerby notices the conflict. He calls out to Tucker:
You need some help, man?
This is an Angel Dust factory!
Angel Dust? Let’s kick some ass, then!
At this point, I’d like to explain that Howard Jackson is a legend. After training under Chuck Norris himself, he went to work for him as a bodyguard (that’s right – when Chuck Norris is too afraid to look under his bed, he calls Howard Jackson). He’s a Hall of Fame martial arts competitor…
Jackie Chan seeks out the best competitors in the world to share the screen in his fight sequences. Subsequently, he often laments that some of these guys – many of whom could dismantle Chan in a real fight – just don’t have what it takes to perform for the camera. He says it comes down to maintaining a rhythm. Real fights aren’t about rhythm – real fights are about anticipating an opponent’s movements and trying to counter them in a way that does the least amount of damage to you.
What I’m trying to say is…Howard Jackson – in real life – could probably whip me and you and everyone we know.
On film however…rough.
Granted, this probably has much more to do with a schedule so tight that the crew was forced to shoot a ninety-three minute film in eighty minutes than any inadequacy on Jackson’s part, but still – this is a fight scene so awful as to be magical.
Eventually (and unfortunately), Tucker breaks away from the fracas to gain entry into Stinger Ray’s inner sanctum.
As the Godfather frantically pursues Stinger through the bowels of his Dust factory, a reconstituted Bucky and his crew tussles with Stinger’s goons outside, and an emotionally frail – but spiritually indomitable – family fights against Pucci Jhones AS The Angel of Death for the very soul of their child. As we move back and forth between these three distinct fronts, we realize that George Lucas swiped this device whole cloth for the finale of Return of the Jedi.
But unlike the rousing finale of that film, Disco Godfather takes us down a darker path – one where we come to understand that this one-man War on Drugs has its casualties. The film’s haunting final image saddens and perplexes – “Is Deckard a Replicant?” might be an easier thing to ponder by comparison. The film leaves us with more questions than answers – and the answers we’re left with aren’t easy to accept.
The questions…well – you’ll wonder what the hell “Put Your Weight on It” means, exactly – and whether you know or you don’t (I do – but only because I asked Rudy Ray Moore), you’ll start saying it anyway.
This is a film that simply defies classification. Sometimes it’s played for laughs…and sometimes the comedy is painfully unintentional. It’s brutally effective and terrifyingly inept – often in the same shot. It tries to be a police procedural and a vigilante yarn…it’s factual and supernatural…it’s deadpan and kitchen sink – and it’s this cacophonous clash of contradictions (EXCELSIOR!) that make Disco Godfather a singular viewing experience. Find this film. Watch this film. Love this film. Put Your Weight on It!
When next we descend…J-Horror meets J-Punk on the Planet of the Wolves.