Earlier today I saw a trailer for the modern blaxploitation picture Black Dynamite, which you can find on the official website. In fact, you not only can find it there, but you almost certainly should go and watch it there right now. Because when I say modern blaxploitation picture, I only mean modern in that this film is being released this year. Every other facet of this trailer is a pitch perfect recreation of the action based efforts in the 70’s genre, from the dodgy film stock to the voiceover man. Even the mild purple and green lighting for the love scene is bang on the money.
Some of the acting is a little on the winking side or the just plain bad, but this fairly low budget production has a casting coup in nabbing Michael Jai White as the lead. In fact, if there is anything in the trailer that stands out as non-authentic for the genre, it’s probably Michael Jai White’s real life martial arts prowess, which is a little too impressive and athletic. Rudy Ray Moore* of Dolemite fame could hardly lift his leg high enough to kick anyone, and you’d have to have just suffered a mild stroke not to be able to dodge one of his slow motion chops.
Obviously Black Dynamite is a labour of love for the filmmakers, and judging from this piece of footage, albeit only a few minutes worth, they’ve really nailed it, in camerawork, music, fashion and idiosyncrasies. I love the delay after the man is shot on the roof, as he stands around waiting to be shot again. If the full movie is made with the same attention as the trailer shows, it’ll be a treat, and an economical one. According to IMDB, the budget on the film is only around 2 million dollars, of which I’d imagine a nice chunk went to Michael Jai White. And when I saw that very reasonable figure, I couldn’t help but think of Grindhouse.
There is surely nothing so silly as an expensive item which is meant to look cheap. So spending 53 million dollars to try (and fail) to accurately recreate the aesthetic of tiny-budget genre cinema must be very silly indeed. I could never quite get my head around what that project was meant to achieve and it seemed the filmmakers only half agreed on what they meant as well. The section by Rodriguez is too flashy, modern and CGI fuelled to have anything in common with the inspiration, whereas Tarantino’s better entry feels more authentic at first but ends up with him being too clever by half.
Certainly the first warning light that should have flashed for the directors (who are no strangers to low budgets themselves) is how having too much money, too much time and too many stars might drown the concept. The problems are summed up toward the end of the Rodriguez trailer for the fake film Machete. After getting the tone right in the first half of the trailer (much better than he does in Planet Terror), Rodriguez blows it with a CG enhanced Danny Trejo flying through the air on a motorbike with a minigun mounted on the front of it. That the audience didn’t come to see their films is neither here nor there, the worst thing is that they failed in the central conceit of their own pet project.
Similarly, Hong Kong cinema is always saying that some new film is the return to the glory days of 80s genre cinema. I remember hearing this about S.P.L a few years ago, which was good, though very much like the movies Donnie Yen had been making consistently for a while, before a small detour into Hollywood. Most of these new genre movies have some appeal, but they can’t quite shake the ‘advancements’ in over stylising things for the modern audience. The older genre movies had to rely on cheaper and more outrageous things to get their audiences. I remember being about 12 and seeing the trailer for Tiger On The Beat, in which Chow Yun Fat shoots people by flinging a shotgun attached to a rope around corners. Something as daft as that costs very little to do, is every bit as outrageous and was more impressive to me then than the kind of expensive tedious antics of movies like Planet Terror.
The limited budget factor is why so many of these films were so inventive and the best ones were movies who surpassed their humble beginnings. There’s something slightly unpleasant about high profile successful filmmakers deciding to dabble in low budget genre, with a production budget in their pocket that could have paid for 1000 of the films they so admire. It’s like a rich student slumming. And if Black Dynamite is the success that it appears to be, I hope any other directors hoping similar experiments keep a copy of this film on their desk.
*By the way, I read over at Twitch that Ruby Ray Moore has another Dolemite film coming up for release, but to say it looks lazy is an understatement.