Friday, September 29, 2017

Darktown Strutters (1975)

It's not every day that someone gets to say "Last week I watched My Stepmother Is an Alien and this week, I'm taking a look at Darktown Strutters."  I feel pretty accomplished.

Not only do I feel accomplished by typing a sentence that I'm sure no one has this past decade, but I'm fast approaching the centennial mark for B-Movie Enema!  This marks the 91st entry of this blog.  That means that before the end of November, I'll have hit 100 posts.  How do I plan on celebrating that mark?

By taking a small break to pursue some other projects which could mean some significant overhauls to this blog.

However, that doesn't mean I'm anywhere near done yet.  Oh no!  I have some sweet blaxploitation to get to first.  Blaxploitation, I might add, that is being brought to us by producer Gene Corman, the brother of Roger Corman... a white guy.  Huh, okay.  It was directly by William Witney... a white guy from Oklahoma.  Well.  Okay, I guess you could say some African Americans maybe had a rough road to get their movies made so they had to get help from other established, white dudes.  Who wrote it?  George Armitage.  Now that is surely a brother...  Motherfucker.

He's a white guy from Hartford, Connecticut.

Despite all this, Darktown Strutters does have a pretty solid cult following with Quentin Tarantino giving it praise - because he has a fucking opinion about everything and someone, somewhere, is glad to write about them.  I know my way around these types of movies, but, I admit, I don't know this one.  A friend sent me a bonkers trailer for it and we saw it was on YouTube to watch for free, so I jumped at the opportunity to add it to the list of movies I wanted to cover on the blog.

I apparently am not the only one who doesn't know anything about the movie.  There's no plot or synopsis on YouTube, where I'm watching it, or Wikipedia.  Thanks to IMDb, I do learn that Syreena has to find her mother, Cinderella, then some crazy shenanigans ensue.  So I guess I should dive right in and watch this mutha...

So, this is how the movie starts:

Whew...  Thanks, movie, for making sure there is no Disney intellectual properties being infringed upon.

Okay, but the real beginning of the movie has what looks to be a motorcycle gang from straight, black Elton John's wet dreams getting not really hassled by a trio of honky Marines when our heroines stop for some sodas and pies.  When one of the Marines climbs up on Syreena's, our main Strutter, bike, she tells him to get his ass out of her saddle.  He kinda says no before taking a pie to the face, and a full on Monkees-style fast motion comedy chase happens for the next 30 seconds.  The chase includes African bush people and silly high pitched, sped up dialog.

Fuck...  I predict this is gonna be a rough ride, guys.

The Strutters get pulled over by four militaristic, and white, coppers.  One of which is a fat ass who gets stuck in the back seat of his squad car.  When he tries to get out of the car, he lets out a giant fart.  While the cops give the Strutters a rough time for... reasons...  Some guys rob the bank across the street with giant machine guns and a fucking bazooka.  The cops don't immediately respond to the robbery until the Strutters jump on their rides and escape the cops.  This leads to another sped up chase scene.

So the girls go to a BBQ place (after somehow escaping the cops) where they chat up some fellas and something dawned on me...

I'm in this only for about 8 minutes and the following things happened:
1. A sped  up pie fight a la The Monkees.
2. A fart joke.
3. A bazooka used in a bank hold up.
4. A sped up chase scene a la The Monkees.
5. One of the guys at the BBQ joint saying the line to another guy holding back a dude in a coon skin cap that looks suspiciously like Flavor Flav, "Say, Mellow, you got your hands on VD, man.  You're gonna catch a disease just touchin' VD."

The fact that there is a character simply named VD in this movie and then there's a fucking line like that...  I don't know if that's the best thing I've ever seen or if it is utterly terrifying.

Doesn't matter, it's time for the Strutters to dance to a song that plays about Syreena, but no one else in the scene at this diner is dancing or doing anything but simply eat their BBQ.  I'd really like to tell you what is happening here, but I really can't.  It's a combination of nothing really happening plot-wise and there being utter bonkers shit happening in what plot there is.  I can tell you what I see.  There are two bike gangs - The Strutters and whatever group Mellow and VD are a part of.  Mellow wanted to race Syreena because he wants to fuck her.  There's a super cute Strutter with pigtails.  Mellow has a fucking awesome pimp hat.  I know Syreena tells Mellow, "If you ever try to rape me again, I'm gonna break everything that hangs, dangles, or swings!"

Goddamn, there's so many things swirling around me happening in this movie, I'm getting dizzy.

Syreena goes to her mom's house where she is greeted by her kung fu brother jumping out the window to surprise her.  He tells her that their mother has still not been seen or heard from since she went to work ten days ago.  Her brother filed a missing persons report, but got arrested himself for filing a false report and they couldn't find her.  He just throws kicks and punches and tiger claws and when he goes back into the house, he doesn't open the door, but just busts through it.  I've had a few laughs from the utter insanity of this movie, but between Flash busting through the door and tearing up the house as he and Syreena test out each other's fighting skills, I'm pretty sure that's going to be the funniest thing I'll see today.

Oh, that's until the next scene when "Commander Louisville Cross" (an analog for Colonel Sanders) shows up to tell the members of an all black press that he started the Cross Foundation (the place Syreena's mother, Cinderella, went to work and disappeared from) to give back to the black people.  Everybody sees what's going on here, right?  This is a fried chicken/black people thing.  Right?  People see this shit going on, right?  Yeah?  And the cut to the next scene in which Syreena and Mellow set down to a picnic table loaded with watermelon...  That's a joke about how white people walk around like they have have a pencil stuck in their buttholes, right?

Syreena finds out from a friend of her mother's that Cinderella wanted to set up a place for women to go when they didn't want to keep their pregnancies.

But enough about that feel good, trying to help people out shit.   It's time for a literal N-word alarm at the police station.  Syreena comes into the police station dressed as a cop to ask about why they haven't found her mother.  The four goofy white cops from earlier are on high alert.  Why?  Because her presence in the police station LITERALLY caused an "N-word Alarm" to go off - except they didn't use the term "N-word".  While they stalk the station like the Keystone Cops, Syreena finds a detective in a dress putting blackface on.  Sigh.  Why?  Because a white serial rapist is out on the streets and his primary target are black transvestites.  Sure.  Okay.  As he is about to go out on the streets, our idiot cops think he is the one setting off the alarm and they shoot him.

I just wrote that entire paragraph.  Add that to the things I've written on this blog that I never ever thought I'd write.

As Syreena continues her search for Cinderella, I want to take an aside, because I think it's kinda necessary at this juncture.  This movie is VERY upfront with the use of the n-word or with stereotypes of blacks eating chicken, barbecue, and watermelon or wearing crazy outfits and pimp hats, etc.  It's also pretty in your face about having a bunch of dumb, white cops giving our main heroes a lot of shit - not to mention the KKK shows up too.  If you aren't offended by these stereotypes, it's fairly funny and pretty fascinating.  It was surely considered, at the time, a pretty liberal take on race relations in Los Angeles and it really isn't kind to white people since they seem to be the stuffier, dumber, and certainly far more racist people in the movie.  The black characters are just kinda doing what they want without doing anything wrong.  I'm 100% sure, in real life, they got hassled quite a bit for just being someplace a cop didn't like them being.

This is also a really kooky comedy.  It has a level of slapstick and over the top delivery and set up that you don't normally see a mainly black cast do.  Yes, sure, there are a ton of Wayans parodies these days but those feel more like riffs on present day movies.  This is much different.  This isn't parodying anything, just playing up whatever everyone thought was funny.  It almost reminds me more of an R-rated Muppet movie where kooky characters are doing kooky, crazy stuff.  Through it all, everyone looks like they are having a ton of fun making this movie.  I'm sure this movie would never be made today due to a lot of people's present sensibilities and crying foul over stereotypes of both races, but I don't see anyone in this movie being embarrassed by making or being in this movie back then.

I do have to say that Trina Parks, who plays Syreena, is pretty spectacular in this movie.  She came on the scene in 1971, most notably for playing Thumper in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.  She largely disappeared after 1976 before returning for a couple more credits between 2012-2013.  However, I have to say her timing and presence in this movie is pretty spot on.  She's gorgeous and you can't really not pay attention to her if she's on screen.  I've said it before, but this is one of those movies that it sincerely does not matter if anyone else in the movie truly works perfectly because all it takes is for Parks to be good enough.  And she is perfect in this movie.  Everything about her is likable, fascinating, and charming as fuck.  While she did have principal parts in lots of stage plays, she also was a choreographer, but I really don't know why she wasn't one of the biggest black actresses of the 70s and 80s.  Maybe there was a reason that just isn't common knowledge out there - like she got blackballed after calling a powerful producer a "farty fart farthead".

Alright, so anyway, back to this movie.  Syreena eventually tracks all the kidnappings of prominent black folks in town to our main bad guy - Commander Cross.  No shit this guy is our villain, right?  There's no way you have an analog of a fried chicken slinger in a blaxploitation movie that uses a ton of stereotypes not be the bad guy.  He tells Syreena that he had to deal with blacks (which he lovingly refers to as "darkies" - also, no spellcheck warning on the word darkies is very concerning) always complaining and bitching about food and decided to build himself up to eventually get revenge on them.

But how, you ask?  By kidnapping them.  And cloning.  And dressing up as a devil pig man.

Why clone black guys?  Well, for them to support the Cross Foundation and his political aspirations for them to eventually vote for him so he can control the black vote.  Once they are made, and prove they can do what he wants, he'll kill those he kidnapped.

It all makes perfect sense.

Cross can't really do anything with Syreena and Cinderella because they are "fanatics" and they never learn.  So he plans on basically killing them.  Syreena finds Cinderella and learns that she knew all along that Cross was bad news.  She tells Syreena that she wanted to find a place for the pregnant women she was trying to help because they were being used to deliver the clone babies before he could perfect the artificial womb he has in his dungeon.  Syreena escapes on a motorcycle while being chased by the KKK.

Wow...  Still typing a lot of sentences I did not expect to today.

Syreena gets help from the neighborhood black biker gangs to take on Commander Cross, his KKK cronies (or kronies I guess, heh), the dumb cops that have been chasing them around all movie, and his other pig devil costume wearing goons.  Long story short, they win.  But not without a bunch of bonkers music stings and what have you.  All that's left is to figure out what the birthing machine will produce from the clones.  It produces a clone of Commander Cross instead of a black voter.  The movie ends with a song and dance for the Darktown Strutters.

Holy shit, every one of these fucking paragraphs are completely insane.  I'm sorry, guys.  I really am.  This movie is not so much good or bad as it is utterly off the wall, next level bonkers.  If you think you can take 80 minutes of some of the zaniest and silliest things you will ever see in a for-real movie, then I invite you to go to YouTube and check it out.  There are a few good laughs in it, and I'm sure some people would be completely offended because everything offends someone these days, but I spent most of this movie with my mouth agape trying to piece together what was happening to my eyeballs and brain.

In short, Darktown Strutters is the kind of shit that needs to be experienced more than viewed.

So, with that, I step aside and put this one to rest.  Next week, I start October's 80s slasher monster villains month with the recently passed Tobe Hooper's 1986 classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2!

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