Notes on ‘Black Dynamite’ and the Collective Experience

October 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

(originally posted on

A cold January night in West LA outside the Nuart theater.  A small crowd was amassing, growing as the clock ticked closer and closer to midnight.  An electricity was felt, a wacky camaraderie among fans of comedy; maybe just fans of movies; maybe simply fans of that joyous collective experience at a midnight screening in a cinephile-world haunt like the Nuart.  And on this night, we were anticipating the underground hit, Black Dynamite.

An awkward introduction by one of the theater employees set the mood as the crowd bonded over deriding the carnival barker.  He ran to the back of the theater as the lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and we tolerated a small series of trailers. Then Black Dynamite begins like an explosion. Laughter echoed in this archaic and yet very appropriate venue. People elbowed people next to them, friends or strangers, howling at the screen like werewolf maniacs.

Michael Jai White, Scott Sander and Byron Minns scripted this blaxploitation spoof; Sanders took the helm, with White in the title role.  Black Dynamite is a kung fu fighter, a womanizing lover, a pimp, a hustler, ex-CIA and the only ‘brother’ willing to stand up The Man.  The plot is launched when BD’s brother is gunned down during an undercover operation gone bad.  His death puts BD on a killing spree as he hunts down every jive talkin’ mother-fucker that might get in his way of cleaning up the streets.  I mean, Damn! The Man is even selling drugs to the orphans.  And what kind of tampering did He do to that malt liquor!?

It was unexpected.  It was handled like that of veteran comedy filmmakers, in the spirit of Brooks or the Zuckers, but with an added dedication to an infamous genre.  This wasn’t just a spoof, it was a strong homage to filmmakers that created a genre not because they set out to do so, but because that is all their circumstances would really allow.  It felt like film-geeks making a film for film-geeks.  Sorry, sorry. It was Film Intellectuals making a film for other Film Intellectuals.

Shot on beautiful 16mm, this film held true the raw texture of the films of the 70’s, like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, only they added a little extra spice for the modern audience by recreating the “accidents” of the past films like leaving boom-mics in the shot or having rough jump-cuts in the middle of the scene.  Aside from the obvious style of the film, the writing deserves special mention.  It might seem to a cocky young filmmaker something like this would be easy to write, nothing but cliché lines ripped from the poor dialogue of the exploitation films.  On the contrary, to effectively write a comedy with lines that don’t just produce a familiar chuckle, but the manic howl from audience, it takes monstrous talent.

90 minutes after the first cracked smile, the laughter pulsed in the air and slowly subsided to chuckles as we walked into the lobby.  Small burst erupted as we all recited our favorite lines to each other and stepped out into the cold air with a mob of new friends.  But why is it that you most likely haven’t had the chance to see this comic gem? It was purchased by a major studio over a year ago at Sundance, but still it never received the release that it deserved.

The loyalties in Hollywood are fickle, so suffice it to say that during the same “release” of Black Dynamite the studio put their God-awful remake The Stepfather on almost three times as many screens.  Is this The Man just trying to keep the Dynamite down? I can’t really say and don’t really want to feed conspiracy but yes, probably.

It’s out of the theaters now.  I’m sure the dedicated art houses will be playing this for years to come, but what if you live out among the multi-plexs that only have Cop-Out playing on five screens and some sort of Twilight movie on the other seven screens?  You are in luck. Black Dynamite is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and I suggest you get your hands on it immediately and watch it with a group of friends.  Hell!  Even with some strangers. It’s not to say this movie won’t make you laugh all by your lonesome, but the important thing with films like this is that wonderful collective experience.

The laughter, the cheers, the overwhelming sense of joy or sorrow, it is amplified and fueled by others feeling the same thing. When there is a good movie out there don’t watch it alone.  It’s an adrenalin rush to cheer when Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star – to cheer when Black Dynamite fights The Man in a climatic finale you won’t see coming.  The Collective Experience is reason we trek out of homes and sit in the theater. You will love this movie on DVD, but to have studio bury this movie in little art-houses robs the public of that little something extra to a film that will become iconic comedy for this generation.

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