The list in surrealist

Pub date May 19, 2009
WriterDavid Boyce
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

1. Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr., 1969) The elder Downey’s brilliant, completely irreverent send-up of race, politics and the advertising industry. Smoke a big fat joint and watch this one. You will laugh your ass off. Take special note of the "commercials" for the products by Truth and Soul, Inc.

2. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2002) Spike Lee’s dark, squirm-in-your-seat masterpiece brings minstrelsy into the 21st century. Damon Wayans tries to get himself fired from a racist TV station by producing an extremely offensive prime time minstrel show. The show turns out to be a smash hit.

3. The Watermelon Man (Melvin Van Peebles, 1970) One of the great Afro-Surrealists casts Godfrey Cambridge as a white racist insurance salesman who wakes up as a black man after watching race riots on the late night news. Very, very OUT, especially the scene where Cambridge sits in a tub full of milk trying to reverse the color change.

4. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) Peebles casts himself as Sweetback, a black stud sex worker who kills a racist cop and has to go on the lam. More allegory than literal narrative, it reminds me of Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970).

5. Black Like Me (Carl Lerner, 1964) Curious writer James Whitmore wants to experience being black so he takes a pill to darken his skin, tests his new identity on his favorite shoe shine man and heads down south. Bad idea. He runs into trouble instantly (near-lynching, bad vibes from every white person) and basically goes insane.

6. Which Way Is Up? (Michael Schultz, 1977) Richard Pryor plays three characters — a jackleg preacher, a dirty old man, and an orange picker who accidentally becomes union hero — in this very funny remake of The Seduction of Mimi (1972).

7. Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin’ (Michael Blum, 1971) Pryor’s first standup film. He’s coming off a coke binge, the film crew is pissing him off, and no one is laughing, but that doesn’t stop him. The highlight is the demented "a wino and a junkie" routine.

8. Space is the Place (John Coney, 1974) Sun Ra, black alien jazz musician for Saturn, lands his spaceship in early-1970s Oakland. His mission is to rescue black people, but strangely, no one wants to be saved. He battles the CIA, apathetic black youth (who think he’s a hippie from Telegraph Avenue) and a character called the Overseer while finding the time to put on a concert at Laney College. Anything by Sun Ra is Afro-Surrealism at its most potent.

9. Ghost Dog (Jim Jarmusch, 1999) Jim Jarmusch’s mystical meditation on the samurai, Brooklyn style. My man Isaach De Bankolé almost steals the movie.

10. Sankofa (Haile Gerima, 1993) Gerima’s off-the-charts take on slavery is disturbing, downright depressing, and utterly psychedelic. A black supermodel on a shoot on Goree Island, the infamous slave trader’s fort, steps into a basement and is transported back to a West Indies plantation. Afro-Surrealism at its best.