My first introduction to Rudy Ray Moore and his 1975 Blaxploitation classic, Dolemite, came in the form of the Xenon VHS release. My memory is a little fuzzy about the first time I watched Dolemite on my own, but I do distinctly recall putting the film on one night when a group of friends were over at my place. The results were as expected: lots and lots of uncontrollable laughter. Of course, being in our early 20s, we were consuming beverages of the alcoholic variety, which did nothing but make us even more susceptible to the hilarity that was unfolding on screen. It was a true party movie experience, and if my memory serves correct, the first time I had been in a larger group of people all together laughing and enjoying a film for being unintentionally silly.
Flash forward some 15-20 years, and once again Dolemite is back, and this time he’s being given his due in the form of a Blu-ray release by Vinegar Syndrome. The reason why I say given his due is because not only does Dolemite and the films of Rudy Ray Moore deserve the high-quality love that a company like Vin Syn can give, this is the first time Dolemite will be seen as intended, in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Now, the reason why this is important is because every previous home video release of Dolemite, my VHS copy included, is in the wrong aspect ratio (full frame), which led to an unbelievable amount of shots where the boom mic is visible.
Naturally, the presence of a boom mic would make the film seem even more incompetent than it already is, so seeing it in the correct aspect ratio helps give the film a little more technical validity. With that said, even without the inordinate amount of sneaky boom mics, Dolemite remains one of the silliest and down right insane B-Movies ever made, and there’s really no aspect ratio that can change that.
Directed by D'Urville Martin, who is best known as an actor having starred in a number of significant Blaxploitation movies (Dolemite included), Dolemite is the simple tale of a pimp who looks to take out the people who had him sent to prison. This includes a handful of corrupt cops as well as Dolemite’s arch nemesis, Willie Greene (D’Urville Martin), all of whom will do whatever it takes to make sure Dolemite is sent back to prison, or worse yet, dead.
While the basic plotline is simple, Dolemite is far from a simple film. In fact, Dolemite is so sporadic and wild that it’s almost impossible to comprehend what anyone could have been thinking while making it. Dolemite feels more like a series of over-the-top vignettes poised to position Dolemite and performer Rudy Ray Moore as a sort of renaissance man with street cred than it does an actual film.
Much like the more well known Blaxploitation lead characters that came before him, Dolemite is a sort of ghetto superhero; a man who has risen above through sheer force of personality and presence, only to get what he wants, how he wants, when he wants, and all while sticking it to the man and anyone else who dares to cross his path. What you have here in Dolemite is a character who has nice cars, nice clothes, owns a nightclub, and even commands a small army of karate-trained prostitutes ready to do battle on his behalf. Dude has got it made, and he’s got it made because he made it for himself, by himself and shares it with those who stand by his side.
Throughout the course of Dolemite, there are numerous moments that feed into what is seemingly just a vanity project for Rudy Ray Moore. Moore, who attained minor recognition as a raunchy standup comedian, takes more than one opportunity to spew his creative and often hysterical rhymes. This is most significant during the third act of the film, where there is an uncomfortable amount of time dedicated to a stage show in Dolemite’s club. This includes everything from a musical performance, a tribal dance number and, naturally, a spoken word set via the man of the hour himself, Dolemite. All in all, the sequence is interesting because it’s a nice window into black culture of the time, and the performances are all genuinely great. However, it comes at the expense of pacing, as having an extended 15 minute stage show brings the film to a complete halt. Thankfully, this sequence leads to the film’s finale, which is a no holds barred action fest of silly inept karate moves and other various action atrocities.
The new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome is stellar and very much on par with what I have come to expect from the niche distribution label (their releases of Madman and Christmas Evil come HIGHLY recommended). The transfer – which was scanned and restored in 2k from a recently discovered 35mm negative – is impressive, with a good amount of detail and colors that pop right off the screen. It's very fitting for such a colorful movie (and such a colorful character at that). The special features are also noteworthy, with a solid 24 min documentary about the making of Dolemite, a full-frame “Boom Mic” version of the film and a 23 minute interview with Dolemite co-star and long-time collaborator, Lady Reed. The cream of the born insecure crop, however, comes from the commentary provided by Rudy Ray Moore biographer, Mark Jason Murray, which is insightful, and extremely informative about both the film and Moore himself.
Dolemite the film, and character alike, is funny (albeit unintentionally), it’s violent, vibrant, ridiculous, and sexy (well, it tries to be). It's exploitation at its finest, and never has there been a better time to jump on the Rudy Ray Moore train than now.