Microsoft word - melvin and mario van peebles transcript rk.doc

TRANSCRIPT A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES Legendary maverick Melvin Van Peebles is a novelist, composer, and filmmaker who has also worked in television, popular music, and theater. After spending the 1960s in Paris, he returned to the United States and made the groundbreaking 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The stunning box-office success of this subversive and sexy film paved the way for filmmakers such as Mario Van Peebles, who directed New Jack City and Panther. Mario paid tribute to his father with his 2003 movie Baadasssss; in this lively discussion, Van Peebles père et fils share a lifetime of experience and a playful father-son rivalry.
A Pinewood Dialogue following a screening of course, when I made my first films, I went down to Hollywood and they offered me a job, but as an moderated by Chief Curator David Schwartz elevator operator. I said, “No, I don’t want—I want to really be in front of the camera or doing creative things.” And that was—they offered me a job as a SCHWARTZ: Please welcome Melvin and Mario Van Anyway, long story short, I went to Holland. Melvin, your first experience in Hollywood was Through another fluke that’s too long to go into doing comedies. Of course, you did Watermelon here, my short films that had been turned down in Man. I guess you were with Universal for a while; Hollywood were seen in France, and France invited you were signed on. There was a front-page story me. So I came to France, and I taught myself in Variety that “Universal Hired Its First Negro French. There’s a French law that a French writer Director” and that you were working on a television can get a director’s card, so I wrote some novels in project. So to just sort of go from that to making French and then asked for a director’s card. And so this film—from the mainstream comedies to making I got a director’s card. So after I got the director’s a film that was so radical, both in how it was made card—but my objective was always the same— after I got a director’s card, I won the San Francisco Film Festival as a French delegate. A lot of funny MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, the actual truth was, it stories, but too long to go into, that were was my idea to do this all along. But I had to play surrounding that. But Hollywood was immensely my cards or do my pretend. In 1957, I started embarrassed by having the only black American making short films in San Francisco, because I was director a French director, and so it was at that tired of seeing what I was seeing in the theaters. It’s juncture that the first crack actually happened in SCHWARTZ: The images of blacks, you mean, on I was given job offers. But if I had taken those job offers, I felt that you would have the one Negro threat under wraps, and no one else would ever get a shot. So I refused. And it’s at that juncture that minorities: “Yes, sir; no, sir,” and always hung with Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis were discovered. the Bible. They didn’t—they didn’t have any Then I said I would do something in Hollywood. I resonance with any of the people that I knew would do a film—if I could shoot it in Hollywood growing up in the hood in Chicago and elsewhere instead of on location, as the other two films had to around America. And so I wanted to change all be done—and that film was Watermelon Man. Then that. And I set myself the task of changing that. Of after I made Watermelon Man, I had a three-picture deal with Columbia for other films. And it was at if this theater were to catch on fire, our differences that juncture that spelling Baadasssss [Sweet would be eclipsed by a bigger event: that we’ve got Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song] takes over. You—I to get out of a theater that’s on fire. And if we get used my muscle, what little bit of it I had, and my out and we decide to put ourselves in harm’s way understanding of Hollywood, to make the film. to come back in and help other folks get out, then That’s—but it was not a departure at all. I had to do you know something about my character in a very the steps I had to do to get to where I wanted to go. short period of time, and I know something about SCHWARTZ: Yeah. And I just looked here a little bit more. I love the ending of the film, the success the And in that short period of time, that summer, I got movie has at the theater in Detroit. It goes to the to learn a lot about him, because he insisted that number-one film. At the time it was number one in his crew look like America. A third of the crew the country, it was actually only on less than twenty hadn’t seen a camera. It was like film school. So screens. It was such a different time than now, they had women and Hispanics and Asians and where every movie goes out on thousands of black folks and white folks together. As time went on, it sort of—the dynamic switched, and I think I—I thought that I—I wanted to help. And when your MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Yeah, it only opened—there dad starts getting death threats for what he were only two theaters in the United States that believes in, it eclipses all the other: “Well, you put would show it at the opening. But, you know. me in a sex scene,” or “You gonna cut my ’fro,” or “You gave away that bike.” (Laughter) SCHWARTZ: But it did very well. It broke all the SCHWARTZ: (Laughs) So you were working some MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Oh, yeah. Exactly as Mario showed in Baadasssss! That is, the first showing, MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Yeah, well, it’s a trip. As I look two people came in, and two people walked out at the film now, on some levels it’s like therapy you and asked for their money back. A lady and her mama. Second screening, there was nobody. And the third screening was what you saw, with lines SCHWARTZ: (Laughs) Actually, you should make around the block and everything. Just how it the film from Mario’s viewpoint now, somehow. happened. And it’s just like—every now and then, God gets it right. Not that often, but every now and MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Yeah, and you play me. SCHWARTZ: [To Mario] From your perspective at that time, as a thirteen-year-old, I guess you had a pretty bohemian upbringing, and you had some MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Mmm…okay! (Laughter) idea of the politics of the film and what was going on. But what did it look like to you, in terms of how SCHWARTZ: Are most of the incidents in the film important this film was or what the film was trying to based on real life? One little thing that jumped out was the rope scene. I thought that was so MARIO VAN PEEBLES: This was my first time really spending this kind of time with my dad. My dad had MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Absolutely, man. That been in France climbing the cinematic mountain, as happened, down to the pistol in the prop box, the he said. And so this was my summer with Pop. secretary who knew Maurice White. Sometimes (Laughter) And he was working on this movie. And truth is stranger than fiction. And not only were the we—you saw what I thought; we didn’t always get incidents real, but we went back to some exact along. But what happened was, as time went on, I locations to film where we—the part where we saw what he was up against. And it’s almost as if. shot—where Melvin goes into that proverbial It’s almost as if you and I have our differences, but RANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES PAGE 2 looking glass and the whole world becomes black my dad was kind of like growing up with the Big Fish, because you don’t what stories are live and he’d interviewed Malcolm when my dad was a journalist in France. He did. Turns out he did. So MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Thank you. That’s all shot on I’m sitting down with him, asking about Malcolm, the street that he lived on. The actual very same and it starts to hit me that Malcolm had said, “If street. We shot in the Crenshaw District. There’s a they don’t want you in their restaurant, build your little place that time forgot, right behind the Magic own restaurant.” And my dad had said, basically, “If Johnson Theater—if you know L.A., that’s L.A.’s they don’t want you in their movies, build your own hood. And I had gone out, on the weekend, movies.” So I’d grown up in a sort of “independent- because I now had an actor playing the lead who by-any-means-necessary” filmmaking family. wouldn’t give me any shit, and knew his lines, so I could abuse him…and that was me! And I was And so I thought about doing this. I started thinking running through the hood—I had that same about doing this story, and Ali would come up to unfortunate pimpy gold outfit (Laughs) that my dad me ask and questions about my dad. Like, “Is your wore. And I told my DP [Robert Primes], “Okay, get daddy still getting some?” (Laughter) And so we ready.” My DP’s a 63-year-old cat and he was in thought about [how] if Ali was the first athlete to use the car. I signaled him, I start running through, and the ring not just to box but to stand for something, there’s people walking around. This one brother my dad used the silver screen not just to make looked up from drinking his Ripple, looks up and movies, but to stand for something. And so all the says, “Sweetback’s back! Look! The brother came ideas started going. I started going, Wow. Let’s do this. But my dad had—when I went to see him, and he had the book, it was sitting there; it was getting SCHWARTZ: That’s great. He had to wait thirty dusty: The Making Of [The Making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song]. And I thought, He’s going to give it to me. He loves me. So I said, MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Oh, thirty years later, man. “What do you think? I’m going to do your story.” (Laughter) And the kind of stuff that would happen This is a very flattering thing to say to your father. daily was just—I would yell, “Cut,” and my whole He says, “Great! I don’t want to get screwed on the crew would cut. But I was yelling “cut” as Melvin, deal; option the book!” (Laughter) So I did. And not as Mario. So it was a mirror—it was a hall of then his only note was, “Don’t make me too damn nice.” So I’ll tell you, the circumstances I had to make the movie under after that—after going to SCHWARTZ: So did you have to work out two studios and getting turned down—were, I had to different types of “cut,” or two different words? MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Yeah, eventually we got it MARIO VAN PEEBLES: So that’s what you saw. SCHWARTZ: And obviously, the film you made, you know, mirrors Sweet Sweetback. Sometimes it SCHWARTZ: That’s less than Sweetback? (Laughs) looks and acts like your dad’s film. And also, I MARIO VAN PEEBLES: That’s one, but I had MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Yeah, I thought maybe I’d get SCHWARTZ: Now, you talked about Muhammad Ali. the edge this time, thirty years later, but… The Bill Cosby appears a few times. And obviously you backstory is, I was on Ali. And Michael Mann’s had a strong friendship with him. I think people directing me to play Malcolm X, Brother Malcolm X. sometimes forget how much of a breakthrough And I’m spending time with Malcolm’s eldest figure he was. Just the fact that he was on I Spy, at daughter [Attallah Shabazz]. And growing up with a time when there was—I think it was the first black TRANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES in a major dramatic role on television. But if you and not run out. So I think sometimes you come to could talk a bit about your friendship with him and places where you want to figure it out. And I think that I would go more the historical route. But you can play the drama a number of different ways. In MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, actually, I didn’t know the case of Baadassss!, if you read the book, it’s Bill that well, because the I Spy—in all that time, I pretty spot-on. And once I put in the testimonials, wasn’t in the United States. I was in Europe. and my sort of remembering it as a kid—my However, I directed one of his episodes, when he P.O.V.—it wasn’t a hard film to make. It really came was [playing] a teacher at a high school. And that’s through me, like kids come through you, not from how we got to know each other. And because there wasn’t any other black director around in Hollywood, he was very nice to me. And when the Posse was more of a place where there were a lot crew got arrested, I was really in deep doo-doo, of black towns like that that existed, and we had a different sort of form. It was sort of a bigger-than-life western. Do you know what I mean? Whereas SCHWARTZ: Hmm. This was an episode of his Panther was more straight in there. And based on his book, again. So I haven’t come to a lot of places where I thought, Well, if I go this way, there’s a MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: ’69 or ’70, something like problem. Now again, it also depends on the time that. He was doing something where he was a period you take. Like, in Panther, we took the early high-school teacher. That was a short-lived series years. In New Jack City, that wasn’t hard, because that he was on, and I directed one of those it was a fictional character, but it’s based right on episodes. And he had specifically asked that I [Leroy] Nicky Barnes and Felix Mitchell and Rayful direct one of the episodes, trying to be helpful, to Edmond, so I was able to do things, but based on give me a foothold. And I remember his kindness. those real-life situations. The whole betrayal, the whole incarceration—and he [Barnes] was on the SCHWARTZ: (Repeats audience question) You’ve cover of The New York Times as Mr. Untouchable. made films that try to tell history as it really happened, and you’re also trying to make stories that are entertaining. Is there a clash between those This one actually was easy. When my dad saw it at Toronto—the first time my dad saw it, we were at the festival in Toronto. There are six hundred other MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Mmm. You know what? We people in the audience. And to sit next to your dad were on the Floating Film Festival with Roger Ebert, while he watches you play him? And there’s that and it won the Critic’s Award. And my dad and I scene where he’s in bed with Bill. And I let the have been now hanging out together a lot. camera just hang a little bit. (Laughter) He gave me (Laughter) And it’s been a trip. It’s fun, but you got a look like, What the f.? (Laughter) But at the end to be careful what you ask for. So we’re on the of the movie, people were applauding, and I said, boat, and we have—I have my little bunk here; he’s “What do you think?” He said, “Well, it’s like got his little bunk there. And he comes in at two in Seabiscuit on two legs.” (Laughter) But this really the morning, with his cigar lit. I’m like, “Where do had that thing, because the core of it really was this you go on a ship until two in the morning?” cat with an impossible dream—opens in two (Laughter) And I looked up at my dad, and I theaters, the customers demand their money back, and it becomes the top-grossing independent hit up until that time. So not just for black film, for all MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Long live Viagra! (Laughter, And it’s a pretty amazing story, and it’s a story that MARIO VAN PEEBLES: I’m getting ready to go, seems to get left out. It got left out of Peter “Man!” And then I said, You know what? I want to Biskind’s book [Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the thank you for living a life that is so colorful and so— Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ’n’ Roll Generation Saved that I could make two or three movies on this cat, Hollywood]. It’s interesting that it changed so much. RANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES PAGE 4 Sometimes we forget what happened. After he all sitting there in the theater. I found a seat next to made Sweetback—Cosby has that line in the movie an old black lady. And she says, “Lord”— where he says, “They get three strikes at the plate. Sweetback’s in the desert now—she says, “Let him We only get one.” Even when you win, if you don’t die. Let him die out there, Lord. Let him die out win on their terms… He never got another job offer there. Don’t let them kill him.” Because it was after Sweetback. Never. And Sweetback was never unthinkable that he was going to live through the distributed foreign, to this day. So it’s pretty end of the movie. That was just all the record. And this may be hard to visualize now, but those things didn’t happen. A black movie was not shown first- SCHWARTZ: Even during that period of the. run. Any of them. They always had a second Because, obviously, the success of the film got feature with it. Because the word was your people Hollywood interested in making black films, but didn’t want to go to just one movie. My response they didn’t want to make that kind of film? was, “How do you know? You never showed them anything they wanted to see.” (Laughter) But that MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, what they did with Sweetback, when we were shooting that—at the end of Sweetback, when it made all that money, However, I think outside of simply the racial angle, MGM was preparing a—doing the pre-production the fact that the film was an independent film— of a detective story. A white detective. So they which was very, very poorly viewed in Hollywood at stopped the pre-production, and recast it for black. the time—had a lot to do with my reception. And that detective was Shaft. Shaft was originally a Because, you see, if a film could be made white detective. They saw the money. But what they independently—Hollywood had maintained you did do, they took the political core out of the movie, had to have seven dialogue coaches, and five this, and added a more cartoonish—and that became and twenty of that—that put a lot of people out of work. Here I come with a ukulele and a unicycle, and make this movie, doing all this. A lot of people SCHWARTZ: So they saw that the market was there, got egg on their face. So that wasn’t very well MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, you have to understand MARIO VAN PEEBLES: It’s interesting because thirty that up to that time, a black character who showed years later, when I went to do Baadassss! and I any dignity never lived to the end of the movie. He sent the script out, there was no head of any always ended with some white guy praying over studio—and there’s no head of any studio now— him, saying, “Well, we hope one day America will who’s a woman, and no head of any studio who’s a change,” and da-da-da. (Laughter) Meantime, he minority. So you kind of go into that same jury that’s was dead, right? For example, there was no black not of your peers. It doesn’t mean that they’re not male up to that time in a movie with facial hair. If he well-read and interesting folks, but there’s a certain had facial hair, it was like mine is, beginning to turn cultural bias. So they’ll tell you what you should gray, you know what I mean? There’re all of these make, and what your people want to see. And the first set of notes I got was, “Well, your dad changed the game for independent film, so make the film I remember so well, the second place the movie more for a sort of intelligentsia film audience.” I opened was in Atlanta—at one of the two said, “Well, that’s part of it, but that’s not all of it.” theaters—and it opened on a Friday. And I walked And then the second studio said, “No, no, no, this into the theater and I’m talking to the theater owner, is clearly going to appeal to black folks. And the and I said—and I apologized for the theater being last one that made money was this, so make it empty, and I told him I hoped what would happen, more hip-hop Barbershop. Make it more comedic, [that] what had happened in Detroit would happen like that.” So that’s, again, not it. And the other there. The guy said, “Oh, no. The theater’s full.” studio said, “Well, it’s too political, it’s too sexy.” Word had already gotten down—however, Atlanta And all of them said, “You got to make Melvin more had just desegregated, and I guess the blacks of a likeable character. He’s got to be likeable.” were a little shy about being too vocal. They were TRANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: You found him likeable, didn’t dad did Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and then the studios sort of took that genre inward and bore it out after a while, there were a bunch of kids that MARIO VAN PEEBLES: So I thought: Well, here’s a saw those movies that didn’t know the Hollywood guy from the South Side of Chicago, who’s got the dream wasn’t supposed to be for us. So me and French Legion of Honor Award; he’s pissed off at the Singletons [John] and Spike [Lee] and the systemic “isms”—sexism and racism—but he’s not Hudlins [Warrington and Reginald] and Julie mad at people. And his crew was like everybody. Dash—a lot of folks were suddenly seeing the So—and his life was sexy and tragic and comedic possibility of this. So twenty years later, you have and multiracial. And it became a marketing thing, this new generation in. And actually, New Jack where they’re saying, “Well, we got to slot it. How are we going to slot it? If it’s not Lost in Translation, and it’s not Soul Plane, what do we do with this?” But the biggest change at that juncture was that And so I wound up saying, “Okay, I made New Wesley Snipes had been playing the funny guy and Jack in 36 days, the other films in about 40,” and the best friend of the guy, but never the guy. We were never [always] the supporting guy. If they wanted a funny guy in Major League, they got And it was interesting, because then you see who’s Wesley; if they wanted a funny in Heartbreak Ridge, really about the project. Suddenly Michael Mann, I was lucky enough that Clint [Eastwood] picked whose first movie that he saw in his—first date me; and if they wanted a best friend, they got Larry movie he saw with his wife was Sweetback. And Fishburne. But we were never the leading guy. And he’s still married, so I guess (Laughter) it was a it was only after we started directing and I went good date movie. And so he came on as our back to talk to my dad, and re-read his book on the executive producer. And Ossie Davis called me up making of Sweetback, that I decided to put my and said, “I’ll play your father’s father.” I said, “I don’t have a hotel for you. I can’t afford a hotel.” He said, “Clean up your house.” So he stayed chez Clint had introduced me to the folks at Warner Van Peebles. So suddenly you’re doing a film in the Brothers, which is how I got to do New Jack City. spirit of the original, and it’s…whew. It’s an When I got to do New Jack, I went to Wesley and amazing thing to play a director of a fierce said, “Hey, you can be in this film as the guy. You independent while you’re directing a fierce don’t have to crack jokes, you don’t have to be the independent. I found that I had to really, literally, best friend of the lead. You will be our guy.” And start to walk a mile in this guy’s shoes. But I didn’t Singleton did the same thing with Larry Fishburne a have people shooting at me. And it was interesting little later in Boyz n the Hood. And then of course, also to note that the reason that I could now get a what Spike did with Denzel [Washington] in multiracial crew that was in the union was because Malcolm [X], by not doing it from the point of view of the journalist, but from Malcolm’s point of view. When those films made money—as my dad had SCHWARTZ: And just how have you seen the said, “Hollywood has an Achilles pocketbook.” climate change for yourself as a filmmaker? Because at the time of New Jack City—it was, I guess, a little bit after Boyz n the Hood, and there Suddenly then we were able to play leads. So they was a market for films, but there were filmmakers put Wesley in Passenger 57 as the lead, even who complained that the only kind of movie you though it wasn’t written black. And they put Larry in were allowed to make was an urban film, and it had Bad Company. And they put Denzel in Pelican Brief. to be violent because it had to appeal to a certain And when they weren’t available, I was in an audience. So how have you seen things change or interesting position, because I was also an actor, so they came to me and said, “Well, this script’s written for [Sylvester] Stallone, but you can shave MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Well, it’s interesting, because your head and grow some muscles, and you could I’ve seen it sort of “bi-generationally,” and partly by be Schwarzenegro.” (Laughter) And so we slowly osmosis. But I think it’s no accident that when my RANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES PAGE 6 changed the game, but I had to go back to the SCHWARTZ: Yeah, it’s a great-looking film. But did the video—did that allow you to bring the budget down, or did that make it possible to make the film But there definitely came a point when we realized that although the Italian directors started out with their hood flicks—Mean Streets, their equivalent of MARIO VAN PEEBLES: It does bring the budget New Jack and Boyz n the Hood—they were allowed down. It costs—you still got to transfer it at the end, to grow as filmmakers past any films that had to be so if someone buys it at the end, they kind of go, pasta-intensive, while we were being told either we “Hmm.” If you’re not careful, you have a lot more had to make “Hip-Hop Comedies” or “Shoot-’em- film or tape to cut. So you want to be careful, Ups.” And if you didn’t do one of those, you could because you start going, “Yeah, just roll it.” That leave, if you were chosen, and go direct films about can get problematic, so you got to watch that in the the dominant culture, i.e, you could step out and editing room, that you don’t indulge that way. It’s direct Italian Job—which is great, and you should good because you’re not, you know… You’re not do that—but if you wanted to make films with black chained—the camera doesn’t rule you the same characters, you couldn’t do a Good Will Hunting. way—but sometimes when you want to run a gun, you can’t; you don’t have the monitor. And so So that’s kind of the same place—so that’s when I there’s—I don’t want to go into it in length—but came up with Baadassss! I was like, Well, if I do a there’re downsides to it, but it’s getting better. film about a guy who is a director—he’s not an athlete, he’s not on crack, he’s not in jail. What’s SCHWARTZ: It seemed like maybe in the editing, going to happen with that? And so we’re going to you were able to be free or experiment, in terms of find out real soon. It opens May 28 in New York and L.A. You won’t see big billboards. It’s Sony Classics. It’s two theaters—I mean, two cities this MARIO VAN PEEBLES: You’re already in the digital time; a little bit up from two theaters. But we’re in a word-of-mouth situation. It’s like the same cake, SCHWARTZ: So that lets you do that; digital lets you SCHWARTZ: (Repeats audience question) Is the market of straight-to-video or selling films over the internet—is that creating an opportunity? SCHWARTZ (Repeats audience question): The MARIO VAN PEEBLES: I don’t know. I don’t know question is how you see the next few years shaping enough about it to say. I do know this, that up in terms of black film, is what you’re asking… distribution is where the—you can now make a movie; getting it distributed is a whole different MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Well, I’ll go first then, okay. deal. And it’d be great to see a viable alternative to That’s a tricky question for a couple of reasons. the lockdown we have right now. But I don’t know One, you have to understand: be it black, white, green, or yellow, if it goes through the Hollywood system, it had to get approved by the same board SCHWARTZ: This was made on video, shot [on of guys. So if you’re going to do Charlie’s Angels, then, cool, they’re going to debate how many kicks you should have. But if you’re going to do a film MARIO VAN PEEBLES: Parts of Ali were shot on hi- about a cat and things that are important to you, def. And I watched Michael Mann make a beautiful, some of those notes are going to turn your movie lush film using this technology. And then I directed into cinematic Wonder Bread. And you might have a Robbery Homicide [Division, episode “Life Is to do it independently. The vision you saw tonight— Lust” (2002)] for him. And then when he came on yes, I only had eighteen days, but I couldn’t have as our exec, we talked about it. So I did mostly bought that kind of good will. Do you know what I digital, and I did a little bit of 35mm. mean? When I called Cosby up, he had that tone of, like, “Oh, hell, you going to ask me for a loan, TRANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES too, junior?” (Laughter) But you can’t buy that kind he can’t fly, he flies anyway. And that’s sort of the of good will. So I was able to make a movie and do it, and really have that vision. And that’s a nice, free SCHWARTZ: We’ve been focusing on your film, but you have a musical revue that’s onstage in France, It’s going to depend on anything else. I think it you write books, you do so many other things also. depends on moments like these. Do we get out and e-mail and talk about it and make a difference? Or MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, we can get a little do we sit back and feel helpless and wait for Booty focused on the filmmaking, but it’s the same Call 4? There’s some value in Booty Call 4. But if we paradigm, it’s the same battle when you’re pushing get out, if it makes a difference, then Hollywood, the envelope a lot of times. Unfortunately for me, like my dad always said, has an Achilles my work is a little—even though in the final pocketbook; we’re writing history right now. This is analysis, it’s populist—it’s a little avant-garde in the one of those moments. If it works, they’ll say, “Oh, explanation. And so I find it very difficult to get wow! Maybe we can do a movie about this Indian funding. When it’s finished, everybody says, “Oh, sister who meets this Asian brother,” and it doesn’t yeah, I see what you mean.” (Laughter) But it’s have to be just white and black and green. before that “Oh, yeah” part—you know what I mean—that makes it difficult. “Ahhh.” If you can’t What’s been so hip is that it just won the Critic’s stand the heat of the oven, get out of the kitchen. Award with Roger Ebert, and those folks were eighty and from Florida. And yet [it also won] the SCHWARTZ (Repeats audience question): Why did Audience Award in Philadelphia and Morehouse. you need the sex scene that Mario was in in Sweet So it’s like the audience is looking a lot like the crew. That’s a tricky marketing thing for them, because they’re not used to—“Well, wait a minute; MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: Well, the sex scene wasn’t we don’t know where to go with this!” That’s a tricky any less necessary as [than] anything else. You’re thing to do. So I think the future kind of is in our speaking of your particular paradigm that offends hands right now. And you saw it. It was there you or that intrigues you. I don’t know. Some before. I have dreams where I’m, like, my dad in the people said, “Why’d you have to kill the dogs?” audience and there are two people. But we’ll see. Everybody’s got their own little thing. I make films It’s really hard to say, beyond that. I think like I cook; I put in what I like. In case no one likes independent film is leading the way, as usual. it, I have to eat it for the rest of the week. (Laughter) Majors tend to chase an audience, whereas independents sometimes tend to lead an audience. MARIO VAN PEEBLES: I’m still looking for him to give So I think we’re going to look to independent film a me another shot at that now, though. (Laughter) SCHWARTZ (Repeats audience question): Was it MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: I’m a cockeyed optimist. And just as hard for you to get money to make this film recently, something’s helped us a great deal. That as it was for Sweet Sweetback to be made? is digital technology. I don’t know how the barrier’s going to be broken, but I’m quite sure that it will. MARIO VAN PEEBLES: No. Mine, I think was easier, Right now, producing is not the major barrier that it even though I only had, loosely, a million dollars, used to be. Right now, I think the next great frontier right. Because what I did have, I had an advantage, for the independent filmmaker is the distribution. in that he had done it before. So flash back thirty or And that has been alluded to a couple of times so years, the dominant culture’s at a disadvantage, here. Don’t know yet how that that’s going to be, because minority cultures, minorities, have the but I think somebody’s going to figure something advantage: we know our culture, and we know out. And if not, it’s not how many times you get them. Right? But they only know them. We might go knocked down that counts, it’s how many times you to see [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, but they don’t get up. A bumblebee is aerodynamically unsound; necessarily come see our flicks. So we’re forced to he doesn’t know he can’t fly. Since he doesn’t know be bilingual, right? So when Sweetback came out and they reviewed it, they had the disadvantage of RANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES PAGE 8 thinking, “Well, if I don’t get it, it means it’s bad or it did become the number-one film? So what was it doesn’t work.” So one of the reviewers said, “Well, the sound is garbled.” Well, he didn’t understand ebonics. So he couldn’t understand it. But the MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: It was obviously the early sex concept that “I can’t understand it”—everything’s scene. (Laughter) There are a lot of people who geared for you if you’re the dominant culture, so, were just thinking the way I was. The title could’ve well, “It doesn’t work. The sound’s garbled. It’s bad been called The Ballad of the Indomitable technically.” The other thing was, the reviewers, Sweetback. But I’m with Marshall McLuhan, that the who were mostly white, said it was based on a false medium is part of the message. And that’s why I premise that police officers would beat up a black called it Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. And why the word “song”? Because I thought sound, the music sound—which I hadn’t heard, the mixture MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: That was before camcorders, of that music sound—was also a possibility. And no holds barred. By the way, that sex scene, the guy’s name is Sweetback. Many people didn’t even know where that word came from. And it’s an old (Laughter) So it’s, like, fifteen or twenty years before terminology, where a pimp is called a “sweetback the [Rodney] King incident; they. But everyone in man,” because supposedly you make love with the the hood had a different—they were like, “Oh, hell, action of your back. And that’s why the woman yeah, that goes down.” Do you know what I mean? calls him Sweetback, and then, bam!—the titles They [white critics] were at a disadvantage. So then come on. That’s all the origin of how the whole they couldn’t understand why it works, makes 15 thing started. And we had never seen sound like million—and I don’t know if the price was a dollar or that, the use of color like that, the use of retribution 2 dollars a ticket, but that’s close to 120 million like that, and the getting away like that. So all of today. And that’s a lot of bread for them not to those things. I would see, by the second day, understand. So they—after that, they said, “We got people would come into the theater with their lunch to get some niggerologists in here to understand and sit through the show three times. It was such a this.” (Laughter) And they started hiring black folks and being aware of it. Now you can’t go to the mall without a white kid with his hat turned backwards And one of the other things that I did, which has and some baggy pants on. So at least they go, become ubiquitous now: since I had no money to “Oh, okay, maybe I don’t get it, but let me ask my advertise… And I didn’t get a lot of bad reviews, son, J.J.” Do you know what I mean? So I had an actually, because I didn’t get a lot of reviews. advantage in that now, culturally, we’re a little bit (Laughter) Most of the papers refused. That’s why I more in the mix. Do you know what I mean? spelled the title Baadassss, so that eventually they could run it, because otherwise—they couldn’t say The disadvantage I had was that they kept saying, “darn” in the newspapers at that time. And don’t “If it’s going to go this way, you got to dumb it forget, the film was X-rated. The film received an X down.” Right? Or “you got to do that.” So that was rating, because if you shoot a film in the United my disadvantage. But I did have an advantage States and you do not go to the Motion Picture [compared] to where my dad was. And like I said, I Association, you have to take an automatic X. And did have the advantage that I could have a when I went to the Motion Picture Association, there multiracial crew that had camera experience. It was were just all these old white guys, and I said, “I an experienced, good, solid crew. Yeah. So I think it don’t think you’re a jury of my peers. And if you say you’re here to protect the minds of young people, then you didn’t protect my mind.” Said, “What SCHWARTZ: Okay. Mel, just as the last thing, about Tarzan and ‘Yes sir, Boss,’ and so forth and Melvin, I’ll just ask you then: What was the case, so on?” So I said, “You have not been doing your since the film didn’t get great reviews in the job, so I won’t submit to you.” So I had to take an X. mainstream press, and it didn’t have the advantages of a big advertising budget—[but] it But then the entrepreneur: when they gave me an X, I put on the text, “Rated X by an all-white jury.” TRANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES (Laughter) And I sold T-shirts. I made a fortune. MARIO VAN PEEBLES: I want to add one thing. My [Jack] Valenti went ballistic. He said, “Well, that has son is in the movie [Baadasssss]. He plays the little nothing to do with it.” I said, “You’re all white, ain’t angel of inspiration, with the wings. And there’s a ya?” He said, “Yes.” And since then, the Motion sequence where he’s bouncing on the bed in the Picture Board has now had more diversity. I know beginning. And we were shooting that scene—I had it’s hard to step back to just the complete folly and gotten the camera on loan, and we’re going to the arrogance and the hubris of: Well, it’s this way. shoot that scene, and we didn’t have a lot of time. But it wasn’t ever, and you can’t win the war with The lady was going to kick us off the lawn, and we clean gloves. And that was the battle. I’m not being had to get the camera back by six. And we hadn’t facetious; I don’t know which part of it. But my life broken for lunch, and everyone was getting irritable. was on the line, and I thought that we had to do And my son took off his wings, and he was going to something in such a bold way, because it didn’t go for lunch. And I heard this voice yell out. And the matter what the papers said, because the papers voice yelled out, “Get back here! We had a deal! wasn’t going to review it anyway. Didn’t matter, any You’re supposed to be in the movie. It’s about a business. Get on the bed and start bouncing!” (Laughter) And it was my dad’s voice. But my dad And then, when—I said, “How am I going to do it?” was in New York, and the voice was coming out of But I realized that a fifteen-second spot costs a lot my mouth. (Laughter) It’s funny that thirty years of money, much more than I could afford. However, later, you find yourself going, Oh, I would never do if I wrote a hit tune and named it “Sweetback’s that—and suddenly, there you are! (Laughter) But Theme,” and then the band played that tune and what I wanted to do, in this movie, was play the the DJs played that tune, every time they played truth. I didn’t want to play Dad as a good guy or a this tune for two minutes and thirty seconds free, bad guy, but play the truth. We’re different people; hmm? I’d have the film advertised! Hello, hmm? we’re different fathers. But I came, in that summer Now that seems just so natural. But before that, of 1970, to really respect what the brother stood for. music was only used as an afterthought in a film. The album would come out maybe two or three weeks, sometimes a month after, even if it was a Hollywood musical that they had—a musical that Hollywood had bought from Broadway. And so now the use of music like that, I think that helped a great deal. And I think the title helped a great deal. The Pinewood Dialogues, an ongoing series of discussions with key creative figures in film, television, and digital media, are made possible with a generous grant from the Pannonia Foundation. Museum of the Moving Image is grateful for the generous support of numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals. The Museum receives vital funding from the City of New York through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Additional government support is provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Natural Heritage Trust (administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation). The Museum occupies a building owned by the City of New York, and wishes to acknowledge the leadership and assistance of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall, and City Council Member Eric N. Gioia. Copyright 2006, Museum of the Moving Image. RANSCRIPT: A PINEWOOD DIALOGUE WITH MELVIN AND MARIO VAN PEEBLES PAGE 10


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MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET 1. PRODUCT AND COMPANY IDENTIFICATION: INGESTION : The concentrate is considered toxic if swallowed, when classified according to Worksafe PRODUCT : INHALATION : Inhalation of chlorpyrifos form the COMPANY IDENTIFICATION : concentrate is unlikely to present a problem due to its low vapour pressure. However, the spray can present a toxic problem

Yang, F., Friedrichs, W. E., Navarijo-Ashbaugh, A. L., deGraffenried, L. A., Bowman, B. H., and Coalson, J. J. Cell type-specific and inflammatory-induced expression of haptoglobin gene in lung, Lab Invest. 73: 433-40., 1995. Yang, F., Friedrichs, W. E., deGraffenried, L., Herbert, D. C., Weaker, F. J., Bowman, B. H., and Coalson, J. J. Cellular expression of ceruloplasmin in baboon and mouse lun

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