- An Excellent Documentary 4/24/2007 12:00:00 AM by BlackNarcissus
To paraphrase the Learner and Lowe song Thank Heavens for Uncut. Because there is little or no way this excellent Documentary would have been shown in the UK without them.
If like me you only knew about the iconoclastic Melvin Van Peebles from his sons Mario's film Baadasssss!. This excellent, entertaining and at times quite funny Documentary will be a real eye opener. It's a warts and all portrait of a life that has definitely been lived to the full.
Oh and what a life, at one time or other Van Peeble's has been Airman in the US Air Force, Cable Car Operator, Film-Maker, Novelist, Broadway Musical Producer, unbelievably a Wall Street Trader and Recording Artist all in some 75 years. Renaissance man seems such an inadequate term for this most individual of men.
As I said earlier the film really is an eye opener for the casual viewer or those of us (I think there may well be many of us) who only knew of the Sweetback film. Take for instance the fact that after the success of the film he would only make one further film in the 70s and wouldn't make another film for over a decade. That he taught himself Financial Market trading and was one of the first African-American Traders on Wall Street. That he had not one but two Broadway Musicals running at the same time and the first of which gets nine Tony nominations. There is a small part of me that thinks he must have made some Faustian pact to enjoy the amount of success he's had.
The film has some real laugh out loud moments such when he recalls spraying his office with the scent of Watermelons and the reaction that this would have on White visitors. Or when someone recounts Van Peebles juggling of his various lovers.
As I said earlier this is an really enjoyable documentary about one of America's most extraordinary men. A definite must see if at a Cinema or Festival near you.
- Well made and entertaining documentary about Van Peebles 2/16/2007 12:00:00 AM by funkyfry
Rennaisance man Melvin Van Peebles is profiled in this exceptional documentary, which also looks at broader issues of race in America and Europe in terms of the conflicts within the black race concerning representation of values.
Van Peebles is best known for his revolutionary (in more than one sense) early 1970s film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadaaass Song" (see my comments on that film's page). Prior to seeing this film I was also aware of his work on Broadway but I had not seen footage of these shows, nor was I aware of his work in France prior to doing "Watermellon Man" and "Sweetback" in the USA. So this film is very educational concerning Van Peebles for anyone but perhaps his most dedicated fans. But what's really great is how it opens up our view of him as a human being, warts and all. I suppose some might find his attitude towards women to be admirable, but most will be either repulsed or amused. He apparently is quite open about the fact that he will not commit to a monogamous relationship. He keeps his love life very organized however -- his daughter says that he has one girl for Tuesday night, another for Wednesday night -- "and if you're Teusday night's girl, you better not call on Wednesday".
Of course the film features the predictable array of talking heads associated with black music and film -- Gil Scott-Herron, Spike Lee, Elvis Mitchell, Gordon Parks -- talking about how influential Van Peebles was. But I really thought the best aspect of the film was the interviews with Van Peebles' children and the scenes showing Van Peebles' at work on his film "Le Conte du ventre plein" (US title: Bellyfull) and working in the studio on the records.
The film takes special notice of Van Peebles' anti-establishment humor -- and by that I mean both anti-white and anti-black establishment. He delights in making a mockery of black academia and the black intelligentsia's obsession with avoiding stereotypes and presenting the black man in a "positive" light. Van Peebles' attitude is similar to that expressed later by black comedians from Pryor to Chappelle (with his famous "fried chicken" sketch in particular) -- "If I like eating watermelon, why shouldn't I eat the watermelon and enjoy it? Why should I be ashamed of who I am?" Van Peebles talks about buying a spray can of watermelon scented aerosol. He would spray it in his office before white associates would come by. Then they would take a few sniffs and say "wow, Mel, that smells like..... (awkward pause).... cantaloupes". Van Peebles even at his current advanced age never seems to cease to delight at "goosing" people's preconceptions and shocking them out of their sensibilities.
An excellent bio-doc -- should be entertaining and informative to Van Peebles' fans and should also introduce a great number of people to this man's pioneering work.
- Smart, funny doc about a one-of-a-kind person 12/30/2010 12:00:00 AM by runamokprods
Very entertaining, often funny biography of the amazing Melvin Van Peebles, whose life includes writing successful novels in French, directing hit, uncompromised black films at a time when no one else was, directing Broadway musicals, and even a turn as a stock trader.
A wild, likable, if hard to figure out man, part genius, part showman and a bit of a con-artist, he seems (at least in this documentary) to have mellowed over the years.
Not quite a great film, it's not in depth enough, and is too openly enamored of it's subject, but a fun and historically interesting one. I'd re-visit it.
- How to Eat Your Watermelon...provides unique insight on Melvin Van Peebles 6/2/2008 12:00:00 AM by tavm
Having previously seen Sweet Sweetback..., Watermelon Man, his son Mario's Badaaaasssss!, I took one look at this documentary on DVD at my local library and had to check this out quickly! What a fascinating look at Melvin Van Peebles' life and various careers (as a side note, I was pleasantly surprised finding out here that he was born in Chicago, Ill. which is also my birthplace). From train conductor to Air Force pilot to French novelist to filmmaker to musician, Van Peebles seems to have done it all and I haven't even mentioned Wall Street trader! However, because of his independent streak-Watermelon Man being his only Major Studio film-Melvin is not always respected. He's never out, however, and seems to treat his jobs like he treats women-one day at a time! Nice insights from fellow filmmakers Gordon Parks and Spike Lee but the real treats are of his children Max, Megan, and especially Mario who had played his father in one of the titles I mentioned. While the Sweetback movie gets the lion's share of attention here, we also see snippets of Story of a Three Day Pass, the Watermelon pic, his televised musical play "Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death", his musical movie-Don't Play Us Cheap-from the '70s, and the one he was shooting at the time-Bellyful. There's also some bonus features of some of his concert performances and of his commentaries he did for a New York TV station. The most hilarious of those was on his seeing "X-Rated" movies as a child which he defined as those that portrayed his race in a demeaning manner! Witty and refreshing, How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) is a must for a look at this multi-talented man.