During my time at film school with Danny McBride, Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green, there was one film that was obsessively studied as a masterwork by the students. It wasn’t Citizen Kane, Heat or Raging Bull. What VHS would often find its way into the VCR as the night grew to an end and the last of our 40 ounces of St. Ides ran out? What was this masterpiece that brought great minds together? Only one name could strike a party in our cinematic hearts: Dolemite! Now the brilliance of this film is finally getting the release it deserves with a properly restored and presented Blu-ray.
Who is Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore)? He’s the renaissance man of downtown Los Angeles. He’s a comedy performer with rhyming skills that match Ali. He’s a fighter and a lover. He’s a small business owner. He’s a gentleman of leisure. Ultimately he’s a pimp who won’t back down from the Man. Sadly this attitude gets him thrown in prison when he beats up the cops that planted drugs in his Caddie. While in the joint, the wicked Willie Green (director D’Urville Martin) has taken control of the neighborhood and turned it into a land of hard drugs, deadly force and blood. The feds can’t take it anymore so they spring Dolemite from his trumped up drug charges to clean up the town with his stable of kung fu trained hookers. Willie Green and Dolemite won’t back down as the city explodes from their power struggle. Everything you crave from an action film is on the big screen. There’s gun running in a church, a beatdown in car wash parking lot, hookers beating up cheap johns and Dolemite making sweet love to his ladies. This is poetic cinema at its finest.
Moore made a film that could easily be a dull and forgettable film in the hands of a lesser performer. His raw joy on the screen allowed the most clumsy of action scenes to receive the same appreciation as anything out of The Matrix. The amateur passion shines as the level of acting is all over the talent and delivery spectrum. The clunky is embraced as more natural than anything rehearsed on a reality show. Moore is fearless as bares his soul and body as he makes sweet love after being freed from a cage. He is a superstar when the camera focuses on him.
There are so many magnificent quotes in Dolemite except they can’t be repeated in public around your grandmother or on a polite website like this one. When in doubt at a party, it was always good to remember the lines of Creeper along with his John Cleese level walk. It was a disgrace when AFI ignored the script when it listed the 100 greatest movie lines of all time. But that’s what you get from film snobs instead of movie lovers.
Dolemite was released in the Spring of 1975 at the height of black action films being box office successes. Whiny critics of this era claim that the movies were just white filmmakers fleecing a black audience. The key creative talent were minorities for Dolemite including screenwriter Jerry Jones and director Martin. Moore raised the money through performing and not merely getting investments from a bunch of dentists eager to be in show biz. The film demonstrates that the minority filmmakers were coming together behind the camera to make the films. Shame that the Indie Film Awards refused to give a lifetime achievement award to Rudy Ray Moore for Dolemite. He was the joy of indie filmmaking like John Sayles or Kevin Smith. Luckily for us that Moore kept his cinematic machine going for three more classics which will be shortly getting reissued on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome including Human Tornado in May.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer is such an upgrade from the old DVD. There’s a beauty to finally getting to see the film outside of the crummy old transfer that we embraced for twenty years. Even the DVD was a murky mess. Now the vision of the film. You can get lost in the world of Dolemite. The audio is DTS-HD mono. Still kicks when the song about Willie Green blasts. Subtitles will let you enjoy the amazing lines.
DVD with the film and bonus features.
I, Dolemite (24:00) uses vintage interviews and footage to tell how Rudy Ray Moore rose up to be a major comic and cinema star. He paid to make the movie because he understood the power of cinema.
Lady Reed Uncut (23:13) discusses how she became a stand up comic with the help for Rudy Ray Moore. He held her hand to bring her on stage the first night. She misses her time as Queen Bee.
Locations: Then & Now (1:47) matches iconic scenes with the modern Los Angeles landscape. You can still visit a few. Others are gone.
Alternate “Boom Mic” Presentation is the full frame version so you can see the microphone drop into the frame.
Commentary track by Rudy Ray Moore’s biographer, Mark Jason Murray gives a lot of history about Rudy and the film production.
Original theatrical trailers for Dolemite (2:56) & The Human Tornado (2:45) is a Dolemite double feature.
Vinegar Syndrome presents Dolemite. Directed by D’Urville Martin. Script by: Jerry Jones & Rudy Ray Moore. Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, D’Urville Martin, Lady Reed, Jerry Jones. Rated: R. Running Time: 90 minutes. Released: April 26, 2016.
Tags: Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore, Vinegar Syndrome