1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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swo17
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1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#1 Post by swo17 » Mon May 17, 2021 6:55 pm

Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

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Director, writer, composer, actor, and one-man creative revolutionary Melvin Van Peebles jolted American independent cinema to new life with his explosive stylistic energy and unfiltered expression of Black consciousness. Though he undeniably altered the course of film history with the anarchic Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, that pop-culture bombshell is just one piece of a remarkably varied career that has also encompassed forays into European art cinema (The Story of a Three Day Pass), mainstream Hollywood comedy (Watermelon Man), and Broadway musicals (Don't Play Us Cheap). Each facet of Van Peebles's renegade genius is on display in this collection of four films, a tribute to a transformative artist whose caustic social observation, radical formal innovation, and uncompromising vision established a new cinematic model for Black creative independence. Also included in the set is Baadasssss!, a chronicle of the production of Sweet Sweetback made by Van Peebles's son Mario Van Peebles—and starring the younger Van Peebles as Melvin.

The Story of a Three Day Pass

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Melvin Van Peebles's edgy, angsty, romantic first feature could never have been made in America. Unable to break into segregated Hollywood, Van Peebles decamped to France, taught himself the language, and wrote a number of books in French, one of which, La permission, would become the stylistically innovative The Story of a Three Day Pass. Turner (Harry Baird), an African American soldier stationed in France, is granted a promotion and a three-day leave from base by his casually racist commanding officer and heads to Paris, where he finds whirlwind romance with a white woman (Nicole Berger)—but what happens to their love when his furlough is over? Channeling the brash exuberance of the French New Wave, Van Peebles creates an exploration of the psychology of an interracial relationship as well as a commentary on France's contradictory attitudes about race that is playful, sarcastic, and stingingly subversive by turns, and that laid the foundation for the scorched-earth cinematic revolution he would let loose just a few years later.

Watermelon Man

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Melvin Van Peebles's only foray into Hollywood filmmaking, Watermelon Man is one of the most audacious, radically conceived works to be financed by a major American studio in the 1970s. Comedian Godfrey Cambridge delivers a virtuoso performance (initially in whiteface) as Jeff Gerber, a loudmouthed, bigoted white insurance salesman whose sitcomlike suburban existence is jarringly upended when he wakes up to discover, in a wild spin on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, that he has become a Black man. What ensues is a ferocious satire of society's racist double standards that gradually transforms into an empowering portrait of awakening Black consciousness, executed with a mix of acerbic irreverence and deadly serious political commentary by a relentlessly subversive Van Peebles.

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

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A landmark of Black and American independent cinema that would send shock waves through the culture, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was Melvin Van Peebles's second feature film, after he walked away from a contract with Columbia in order to make his next film on his own terms. Acting as producer, director, writer, composer, editor, and star, Van Peebles created the prototype for what Hollywood would eventually co-opt and make into the blaxploitation hero: a taciturn, perpetually blank-faced performer in a sex show, who, when he's pushed too far by a pair of racist cops looking to frame him for a crime he didn't commit, goes on the run through a lawless underground of bikers, revolutionaries, sex workers, and hippies in a kill-or-be-killed quest for liberation from white oppression. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song's incendiary politics are matched by Van Peebles's revolutionary style, in which jagged jump cuts, kaleidoscopic superimpositions, and psychedelic sound design come together in a sustained howl of rage and defiance.

Don't Play Us Cheap

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Melvin Van Peebles's film version of his own Tony Award–nominated Broadway musical is a bold blend of theater and nervy, New Wave–inflected cinematic invention. A cast of Black stage and screen luminaries including Esther Rolle, Mabel King, and Avon Long stars in this charmingly offbeat, fablelike fantasy in which a pair of mischief-making devil-bats dispatched by Satan assume human form in order to wreak havoc on a Saturday-night house party in Harlem—only to find their diabolical plan thwarted by their hosts' infectious generosity of spirit. Staged with ebullience, the original blues- and gospel-infused songs by Van Peebles burst forth in a life-affirming celebration of Black joy, tenderness, resilience, and strength.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New 4K digital restorations of all four films, approved by filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks for The Story of a Three Day Pass, Watermelon Man, and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for Don't Play Us Cheap
Baadasssss!, a 2003 fictional feature film based on director Melvin Van Peebles's diaries from the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, directed by and starring his son Mario Van Peebles, with commentary by father and son
• New conversations between Mario Van Peebles and film critic Elvis Mitchell; producer Warrington Hudlin and critic and filmmaker Nelson George; and scholars Gerald R. Butters Jr., and Novotny Lawrence
• Audio commentary by Melvin Van Peebles from 1997 on Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
• Three early short films directed by Melvin Van Peebles
How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), a 2005 documentary on Van Peebles's life and career
The Story Behind "Baadasssss!": The Birth of Black Cinema, a 2004 featurette
Melvin Van Peebles: The Real Deal, a 2002 interview with the director on the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song
• Episodes of Black Journal from 1968, 1971, and 1972, on The Story of a Three Day Pass, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and Don't Play Us Cheap
• Interview from 1971 with Van Peebles on Detroit Tubeworks
• French television interview from 1968 with Van Peebles and actors Harry Baird and Nicole Berger on the set of The Story of a Three Day Pass
• Excerpts from a 2004 interview with Van Peebles for the Directors Guild of America Visual History Program
• Introductions to all four films by Van Peebles
• Trailers
• New English subtitle translation for The Story of a Three Day Pass
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• PLUS: A 64-page book featuring writing on the films, including an introduction by film scholar Racquel J. Gates

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The Elegant Dandy Fop
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Re: Criterion Discussion and Random Speculation Volume 7

#2 Post by The Elegant Dandy Fop » Mon May 17, 2021 7:46 pm

yoloswegmaster wrote:
Mon May 17, 2021 6:55 pm
According to an Indiewire article about 'Story of a Three Day Pass', Criterion is planning on releasing a Melvin Van Peebles boxset.
Indiewire says wrote:In the effort to reconsider Black cinema in terms of cultural lineage, Criterion plans to re-release a restored “Sweetback,” as well as other Van Peebles films, including “Don’t Play Us Cheap,” “Watermelon Man,” and “Three-Day Pass,” along with son Mario’s 2003 film, “Baadasssss!”, starring as his father in a biopic about the making of “Sweetback.” All five films, plus Van Peebles’ mostly unseen shorts, will make up a single box set.
Major news! The Vinegar Syndrome edition of Sweetback was stacked as is and wonder how much they can improve on their 4K transfer? Vinegar Syndrome tends to do minimal digital clean-up on their transfers (which I personally prefer), so I'm going to assume Criterion will probably take out a dust and damage here and there. The Criterion laserdisc still is the only place with the Van Peebles commentary.

While they're at it, add O.C. and Stiggs in the set for Van Peebles' brief appearance as Wino Bob, whose actually referred to many times in the film as such. I joke about adding it, but would love to see it in proper HD. :wink:
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Re: Criterion Discussion and Random Speculation Volume 7

#3 Post by solaris72 » Mon May 17, 2021 10:13 pm

Disappointed that it doesn't sound like they're including his wacky microcinema auto-biopic feature Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha, which I saw almost 15 years ago and has never gotten a video or streaming release...

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Re: Criterion Discussion and Random Speculation Volume 7

#4 Post by knives » Tue May 18, 2021 10:34 pm

Don’t Play Us Cheap is basically a filmed play, but once you get passed the aesthetic limitations it’s a fairly interesting film that fans of To Sleep With Anger will probably enjoy.

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1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#5 Post by FrauBlucher » Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:46 pm

preorder has gone up on CC's site
Sept 28
Boxset
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Re: Forthcoming: Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#6 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:52 pm

Nice set of extras overall, but how did Criterion actually do less than Indicator for Watermelon Man-specific features?

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knives
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Re: Forthcoming: Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#7 Post by knives » Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:52 pm

This really exceeds expectations. What an amazing sounding set.

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Re: Forthcoming: Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#8 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:57 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:52 pm
Nice set of extras overall, but how did Criterion actually do less than Indicator for Watermelon Man-specific features?
Right? At least they managed to involve Racquel Gates which I would have thought to be a no-brainer for Indicator.

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Re: Forthcoming: Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#9 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:03 pm

Jean-Luc Garbo wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:57 pm
Right? At least they managed to involve Racquel Gates which I would have thought to be a no-brainer for Indicator.
She was due to appear on the Indicator release, and was even mentioned in the initial press release (feel free to Google; I just did myself to refresh my memory), but plans had to be scrapped when the first Covid-19 lockdown was imposed just before the planned filming date. It's thankfully rare that extras have had to be scrapped post-announcement, but sadly this was one of the exceptions.

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#10 Post by beamish14 » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:22 pm

I have to say that I'm not a fan of Elvis Mitchell, and I wish they could've gotten someone else on this set and Deep Cover. He's a poor interviewer on KCRW, and
I'm not impressed with his writing, either.

I do have a funny anecdote about him. He moderated a Q&A with Noah Baumbach before a screening of The Meyerowitz Stories at the New Beverly. Before Baumbauch took the stage, Mitchell came out first and turned to the audience, essentially asking for applause. Somebody in the audience facetiously stood up and loudly whooped and clapped for him as loudly as they could.

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#11 Post by Ribs » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:27 pm

Interestingly for a spine-numbered release (at least, the individual titles have numbers), there is not going to be DVDs of this set. Pretty weird!

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#12 Post by swo17 » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:31 pm

I assume the box is 1092 since Beasts of No Nation is 1091 and the films here are 1093-1096

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#13 Post by The Elegant Dandy Fop » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:32 pm

beamish14 wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:22 pm
I have to say that I'm not a fan of Elvis Mitchell, and I wish they could've gotten someone else on this set and Deep Cover. He's a poor interviewer on KCRW, and
I'm not impressed with his writing, either.

I do have a funny anecdote about him. He moderated a Q&A with Noah Baumbach before a screening of The Meyerowitz Stories at the New Beverly. Before Baumbauch took the stage, Mitchell came out first and turned to the audience, essentially asking for applause. Somebody in the audience facetiously stood up and loudly whooped and clapped for him as loudly as they could.
Elvis Mitchell is an annoying show boat. He uses the same annoying gimmicks in each Q&A including one where he pretends to be shocked, puts down his microphone, and starts to walk away. I remember being annoyed when LACMA got him to try and revitalize their film program with his mediocre Film Independent stuff. The guy is also high all the time, but have been around him where he’s especially high and is obviously not in the best frame of mind to talk publically.

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#14 Post by soundchaser » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:34 pm

I think this may have been a holdover from last month — otherwise I’m not sure why they’d have announced it early.

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#15 Post by swo17 » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:37 pm

Didn't they announce all their boxsets last year this same way?

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#16 Post by soundchaser » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:38 pm

The non-numbered big sets, yes. None of the mainline stuff outside of the Olympic Films set, though.

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#17 Post by FrauBlucher » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:39 pm

Yes, last year they did the same, announcing the boxes 4 or 5 days before announcement day

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#18 Post by cdnchris » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:40 pm

Judging by the box art I saw the set itself doesn't have a number, but the individual titles do, so I think this one only covers 1093 through 1096.

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#19 Post by Pavel » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:43 pm

So 1092 doesn't exist? Maybe they'll announce it on the 15th, but they don't usually leave gaps, even if only for a few days

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Re: 1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#20 Post by cdnchris » Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:45 pm

If the set isn't 1092 it will more than likely be announced on the 15th. They've gotten better, but there was a time when gaps weren't uncommon

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Re: 1092-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#21 Post by dwk » Thu Jun 10, 2021 2:35 pm

Ribs wrote:
Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:27 pm
Interestingly for a spine-numbered release (at least, the individual titles have numbers), there is not going to be DVDs of this set. Pretty weird!
The Bruce Lee set was spine-numbered (the box, the individual titles didn't have a spine number) and it was Blu-ray only.

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Re: 1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#22 Post by Nw_jahrles » Thu Jun 10, 2021 3:44 pm

Unless I have my facts mixed up, wasn’t Mario Van Peebles subjected to having to have unsimulated sex on camera while underage? If they are trying to play woke, they can’t give free passes to films made by people who are BIPOC.

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Re: 1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#23 Post by CSM126 » Thu Jun 10, 2021 3:46 pm

Oh good the woke discussion showed up uninvited. Again.

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Re: 1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#24 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jun 10, 2021 3:48 pm

Well, it's a racing certainty that this box won't be released in Britain, and not just because Indicator still has the rights to Watermelon Man.

The BBFC passed Sweet Sweetback uncut at first, and then turned up incontrovertible evidence that Mario Van Peebles was underage at the time of shooting. And in Britain, even possession of underage sexual material is a crime, so they had no choice but to cut it.

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Re: 1093-1096 Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films

#25 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Jun 10, 2021 3:59 pm

Ironically Channel 4 television in the UK had shown it unedited long before that, with the early brothel scenes intact, when it was premiered in their 1997 Ba Ba Zee season.

Probably the most interesting interesting thing about the use of Mario van Peebles in Sweet Sweetback is that it reminds me a bit of the way Alejandro Jodorowsky had used his son Brontis in El Topo just a year earlier, as the youngster immediately having to get used to existing in a fundamentally brutal world where innocence has no inherent value placed on it, and has to almost immediately become inured to distorted adult behaviours (and wider world) he has been forced to participate in.

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