Pop culture is littered with films purported to be "so bad, they're good." Nothing puts those claims to the test like having a 20-something roommate with too much beer and too little dating activity: During a few years when I'd rather have been watching Fellini, I was subjected to Van Damme, Hercules In New York, and every kind of blaxploitation film ever made. As I'd already discovered Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda, only one of my roommate's trashy experiments ever did the trick: Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite.
Moore, who'd already had a career making bawdy "party records" in the '60s, took advantage of the early-'70s boom in black-oriented action films to create his own character. With no budget and zero filmmaking talent, he told the story of a bad-ass pimp who, when crime in his 'hood gets out of control, is released from prison by the authorities to take the bad guys down. (Why Dolemite — who was caught with dope in his trunk — is considered superior by the fuzz to other hoods is never explained.)
Big D is the kind of guy who, on the day he gets set free, has a limo full of hot chicks meet him in the prison driveway — then strips in front of everybody, changing his square prison duds for the biggest lapels and stupidest hat ill-gotten gains can buy. When he gets home, he finds that his main mama has put the rest of his girls through karate school, just in case they need to become an army of some sort. They do, of course.
The story is classic crap, and the filmmaking is worse: Director D'Urville Martin (we'll take that name on faith; ditto with cinematographer "Nicholas Josef von Sternberg") is a complete novice, whose inability to match action from one shot to the next has been lampooned beautifully in recent years by MAD TV. Which is not to say that the screenplay and acting are any better. The whole thing has an aura of incompetence that truly attains a kind of charm.
Moore's follow-up, The Human Tornado, has the same production values, but it takes the original's fanciful themes five steps further. Sub-human redneck racists, effete cracker queers, and the most outrageous fantasy sequence in which a suburban white housewife imagines herself ravished by hot black studs — whatever the first film's budget wouldn't allow is included here.
These two films are packaged, with two more features and a few documentaries, in Xenon Pictures' Dolemite Collection. According to the packaging, it's "Officially disapproved by The Man," and you can see why. Beyond the endearing first two films, Moore's activity (to paraphrase Ghost World's Enid) "is so bad it goes beyond good and back to bad."
As Moore moved from film roles back to stand-up comic/"singer" gigs, his routine became more scatological and less imaginative. Dick jokes make up most of the spoken repertoire on Live at Wetlands, a concert film shot last year, and the music isn't much more interesting.
That side of Moore, one suspects, is what the audience will see this Saturday at Sunset Station: a man with a hardcore novelty appeal and a triple-X vocabulary, interspersing a selection of bluesy tunes with braggadocio and audience insults. The event's publicist says the event will showcase Moore's "one-man band," which — given the fact that he plays no instrument on the full-band concert in this collection — may not be a good sign.
But watch those first two movies — preferably with a friend whose sense of humor runs toward the ludicrous. If, after experiencing the funky kung-fu pimping action that is Dolemite, you feel compelled to see the man in the flesh — don't let The Man stop you.
The Dolemite Collection
7 DVDs, Xenon Pictures, $69.95
Rudy Ray Moore
Live in concert
Saturday, May 25