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Junkfood Cinema: Dolemite

By  · Published on February 11th, 2011

Junkfood Cinema: Dolemite

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; all we are saying is give pizza a chance. This is the internet’s least favorite weekly column but the most revered among the morbidly obese, the insane, and the insane obese. Every week I subject you, the innocent readership, to a spectacularly bad film and try to count on one hand the reasons it falls short of competent. But then, like a politician, I will flip the flop and breakdown all the reasons I love it. To add to this decoupage of terrible, I will then pair the film with a food item bearing a nutritional value equivalent to the intelligence quotient of the film.

This week we continue the imperative sociological experiment known as Blaxploitation History Month with the immortal Dolemite.

What Makes It Bad?

How much time to you have? Dolemite is a champion failure from start to finish. Why don’t we start with its leading man. Remember when I said I respected blaxploitation because it allowed artists a chance to shine who otherwise would not have had those opportunities? That’s totally true, but the reasons Rudy Ray Moore wouldn’t have been a star without blaxploitation have nothing to do with the color of his skin, but the complete and utter lack of anything resembling talent. Traditionally, movie stars occupy a certain stratum of attractiveness or, failing that, possess an acting prowess that is impossible to ignore. Rudy Ray Moore is the rare exception. The man has a face for radio and a voice for picture books. His martial art skills really stretch the definition of both of those words and his fashion sense is that of a blind pimp…who not only dresses himself every morning but also selects the material from various carpet samples he touches. In fact, Rudy Ray Moore’s only marketable skill appears to be hitting just the right inflection on the word “motherfucker.” Oh, and let’s not forget those rapping skills. Oh those rapping skills.

If you read last week’s Black Belt Jones, first of all I’m terribly sorry, and secondly you may recall a scene in which the bad guy raps randomly in the middle of the movie. In that film it was a trifle absurd. In Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore’s insistence on rapping actually forces the film to grind to a halt so that his lyrical disasters can capture your full attention. It would be like a piss poor football player calling a time out in the middle of a game to read a similarly piss poor haiku. It must have been in Rudy’s contract, and by that I mean the chicken-scratched Bounty paper towel, that the rap scene go on for somewhere between 10 minutes and eternity. It hurts, it just plain hurts.

Christopher Nolan couldn’t follow this plot. There are breakneck flashbacks shoehorned into the middle of conversations, there are extended scenes of Dolemite putting on fancy clothes outside a limo only to have a cadre of floozies in the limo immediately disrobe him, and gratuitous sex scenes made infinitely more gratuitous by their inclusion of naked, doughy Rudy Ray Moore flesh. Since this movie was made for less the cost of a candy bar, most of the exposition – nay most of the important plot points – are communicated by lounging characters via extended dialogue. This is nothing new to low budget films, but it’s so excruciating to hear these brain-dead mouth-breathers stumble their way through basic word pronunciation that the urge to tune out is irresistible. By the time you focus back on the film, a hamburger pimp is walking down the road doing a happy dance at the acquisition of his tasty sandwich. It actually makes just as much sense, continuity-wise, when you are paying attention. I’m also not quite sure just how the nonstop parade of visible boom mics, from both the top and bottom of the screen, figures into the story but it’s nice to know they’re there.

Why I Love It!

I defy you not to enjoy the surreal, barely consensual mind fornication that is Dolemite. There are far too many moments of hilarious incompetence to not elicit at least one giggle from even the snobbiest of cinephiles. Seriously, is Rudy Ray wearing a giant taco shell on his head during that rap scene? Why are the FBI guys waiting to take down Dolemite one at a time, a la every ninja movie you’ve ever seen? I’m sorry, did they just say Dolemite was in jail for possession of stolen furs? Was he convicted under the legal precedent of The People vs. Cruella De Vil? What the hell is Hamburger Pimp mumbling about? Why is there a Hamburger Pimp! All of these are questions Dolemite will introduce and then refuse to answer.

As a fan of blaxploitation, Dolemite is required viewing. It is a cult classic that truly epitomizes that term while simultaneously making the prestige there contained incredibly dubious. For most people, this is the film they think of when they think of blaxploitation. Or at least, a film of this caliber is what they associate with the subgenre. What I love about this is that it makes delving into blaxploitation such a a marvelous experience fraught with discovery. Turns out, there exists a whole host of quality blaxploitation films that excel where Dolemite completely fails. The other great thing about having a film like this in your viewing repertoire is that it allows for the appreciation of pitch-perfect parody like Black Dynamite. Every time I watch that movie, and Michael Jai White gets hit in the head repeatedly by the boom mic, I think of Dolemite and laugh.

As with most blaxploitaiton, Dolemite has a pretty badass theme song. It’s nowhere near as cool as something born of Isaac Hayes’ genius, but it’s snappy and gets the toes tapping. I also love the plain blue background for the title card during the opening credits. It feels like we’ve suddenly been thrust into Melvin Van Peebles’ Sesame Street.

Junkfood Pairing: Hamburger

How could it not be? As you take bite after juicy, delicious bite, remember the sage wisdom of the loquacious Hamburger Pimp. No seriously, you’ll have to remember it. I can’t. I couldn’t understand a damn word that guy said. Something about muskrats?

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.