Coffee vs. Manowar? Whoop-doo!
Ripping into the chilly a.m. air, there are only two alternatives in shaking the nervous system awake. Caffeine and heavy metal. Nothing else will do the trick. But you must choose one. Manowar ride horses made of steel. Jaun Valdez rides a pack mule. Manowar fight off evil sorcerers with their guitars and drum sticks. Coffee burns the esophagus. Manowar is made of heroes who'll fight long into the night. Coffee is a perishable liquid that eventually drips from your urethra in shades of gold and green. Manowar will be around forever. On that note, Coffee will be too. Both have the ability to pep you up. And both can be quite tasty when given the right circumstances. But what do you get when you mix them both together?
Negropsy! The first and only Black Metal band from Oslo that is actually black. Consisting of four African-Norwegians, this quintet has been around since the church burnings of 1993. Though often shunned by their pale-skinned peers, they rock harder than most "black metal" groups still making original music at this late stage in the game. Their lyrics are far more misanthropically cryptic than the average Teen-era paganist, but where you might think their politics would swerve into the blight of the downtrodden metal singer, Negropsy actually focus a lot of their energy on the American musings of 90s-era R&B and hip-hop. Never without a sense of humor, which is a rare thing amongst Norwegian Prog, Negropsy have even recorded covers of Barry White's Secret Garden and Biz Markie's Flicking Boogers. They've also penned ditties about nun rape and over throwing the catholic church. The band started as a joke while its four members were still in high school. Leader Lowrez Gorgaith soon began studying nihilism and Satanism, rerouting his group's noted stance as a one-off parody band. The other three members felt an element of fantasy was needed to create the perfect "no false metal" scenario. Their high-energy live shows have led many fans to compare them to a mix of coffee and Manowar, which is exactly what Lowrez states anytime someone asks him to describe his music. While underrated and often misunderstood, Negropsy has long been pushing metal music forward. Evolving it and turning it into something new and different. One thing's for certain, there is nothing crazier than an African-Norwegian covered in blood howling about boogers and nun rape.
Thelma Oliver! Not only was this beautiful black actress the first woman to bare her breasts in a mainstream American film. Her body was so bodacious that it broke the back of the Production Code. Before the ratings system that we know today was in place, Hollywood stuck to a pretty strict set of conduct rules known largely as the Hays Code. Established in 1930, this mandate from above enumerated three basic principles: No motion picture was allowed to lower the moral standards of those watching it. Only correct standards of life were to be depicted. And no law, whether it be natural or human, was to be ridiculed. Of course this all meant one thing: No nudity! As film production headed into the rough and turbulent 60s, directors began acting out against this lofty set of regulations. The naked breast slowly began to ease in and establish itself amongst the Friday night set at the box office. But it wasn't until Thelma dropped her top that the practice became accepted by the general public at large. In the 1964 Sidney Lumet drama The Pawnbroker, Oliver played a black prostitute that seduces the boss (Rod Steiger) of her boyfriend (Jamie Sanchez). The Legion of Decency screamed long and loud about this controversial subject matter, but the MPAA gave it a seal of approval. It became the first State made film to show a woman nude from the waist up, and it was granted a Production Code seal because Thelma's tawdry flesh was deemed important to the storyline. Soon after, the Hays code was abolished and the MPAA ratings system we know today was put into place. While certainly an actress important to this new age of cinema, Oliver only ever appeared in two other films: Black Like Me about a man who gets injected with a pigmentation serum to change his skin color. And South Pacific, where she played a character known only as "negro woman". She is still alive today and occasional appears on stage in various live productions. Without Thelma Oliver, we never would have seen titties on the big screen! Whoop-doo!
Brotherhood of Death! "I aint had this much fun since my father was eaten by a pig!" What's more intrinsically satisfying than watching a Nazi get pounded by Indiana Jones? How about watching a Ku Klux Klan leader get torn limb-from-limb by an upstanding member of the community who's just trying to survive in this cruel world. No one makes a better villian than a member of the KKK, not even a Nazi (though the two are sometimes interchangeable). Because of their stated nature, and the power they still hold in underground politics, many modern day filmmakers are literally scared of using this hate group's iconic imagery as a means to infuse an audience with revulsion and disgust. No matter how you slice it, the Ku Klux Klan is taboo. And there aren't too many films that have taken this racist "brotherhood of death" head on in a cinematic fashion. In the past decade, the Klan has only made two noteworthy appearances. O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay both criticized and lampooned this outdated racist hierarchy, though their jabs were quite lighthearted and non-offensive. More importantly, neither film had a black antagonist. Maybe because the Klan is just as active today as it was back in the 1800s, black directors don't feel like dipping their toe into this emotional hotbed of controversy? Those conical hats are still scary, but are they enough to keep an active black voice from exploiting the KKK as a villian in modern day cinema? Is it worth the effort? The last time a black actor came in contact with the KKK was Richard Pryor in the comedy Bustin' Loose, which white washed the scenario Pryor was placed into as an African-American. Once again, the KKK was used to illicit laughs. With his school bus full of kids stuck in the mud, Pryor convinces the Klan, who are on a seemingly innocent march through the woods, to help him out. They push on the bus, setting it free. Why do they help this black man out? Because the bus is full of blind kids (or so Pryor tells them)! Ah, those racists have a heart. Their comeuppance? They all fall face first into the mud once the bus is dislodged. Thus getting their white bed sheets dirty. The set-up is intense. But the pay-off is lame. It turns the Klan into an organization on par with Good Sam. This being a kid's movie, their ghastly motives are bound to go over most nine-year old's heads. Pryor actually looks like the asshole here. And it shouldn't be that way. That's what makes Brotherhood of Death such an important piece filmmaking art. It is one of the few action dramas to ever pit a group of black protagonists against the villainous tyranny of the KKK. With its shoddy production values and cheap aesthetic, one could argue that it's the rare film in need of a remake. Except that the energy and hatred steaming off this aggrandized social commentary is palpable. Are these folks acting? Their seething eyes tell me no. Which makes this an intense ride from the get go. The white cast members are gleefully aware of their stance, and it seems that director Bill Berry has gone out of his way to employ actual members of the KKK for his three heroes to play against. The story centers around 3 best friends as they depart for Vietnam to serve our great country. While traipsing around the jungle (which looks suspiciously like Arkansas), they become drug peddlers and decorated army men. Upon returning home, they discover that an old girl friend as been raped by a redneck. Thus, a violent battle between the KKK and these three innocent men erupt, taking the blaxploitation genre to new heights. It's a little seen gem full of intense moments of racial hatred. Certainly unsung and not often cited, if you are to watch just one black empowerment film this February, you should definitely seek this film out. Its Berry's cinematic answer to the glorification of the Klan in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation.
Miles Clark! The first black person in 3D! You may have noticed that, despite everyone else jumping on the 3D bandwagon as of late, none of our prominent black directors or actors have taken up the cause. There are no 3D Denzel Washington films on the horizon. Tyler Perry isn't ensconcing himself in the genre. And Spike Lee has yet expressed any desire to update Do the Right Thing! in eye-popping dimensions of immersive color. Odd as that may seem, the first feature-length 3D film ever released in theaters was 1953's Bwanna Devil, which took place in the wilds of Africa and had a supporting cast of regional extras. Though based on the true African native, a lot of the actors were of Eastern Indian decent. Miles Clark was a kid from Brooklyn that wound up in the jungle acting alongside Robert Stack and Nigel Bruce. He played Mukosi, a young traveling companion that helps out during a massive 3D lion attack. While it can be argued that Kalu K. Sonkur, Bal Seirgakar, and Bhogwan Singh are also eligible for the distinction of being the first black person in 3D, it is Clark that first appears on screen here. And it is Clark that has lines of dialogue, while most of the other natives don't. Miles was a favorite of Director Arch Oboler, who urged the youngster to continue acting. Throughout the late fifties, Miles would go onto play "Boy", "Black Child", and "School Boy" in many secondary features. Fearing he'd been typecast as that "cute negro boy" by the less than accepting audiences of that time, he went on to pursue other interests in his teens and is still alive to this day. If you see him on the street, don't be afraid to say hello! He loves talking about his past achievements in film. And god damn it, he's the first black person to have ever appeared in 3D! Whoop-doo!
Philo Quartz! The first African-American caveman! There is some debate about this. Many view Sharon Stone (no, not that Sharon Stone, dummy; we're talking Halle Berry in Flintstones: The Movie) as the first black denizen of Bedrock. At the time of that film's release, Berry made the press rounds, explaining how they originally wanted the real Sharon Stone for the role. There'd never been an African-American living amongst Fred and his family, let alone an ebony seductress in a strapless evening gown. She wanted to bring some much-needed diversity to the franchise, and sex up the role. Little did Berry know that a group of African cavemen appeared in a 1964 episode of the original show entitled Cave Scout Jamboree, where Fred and Barney stumbled upon an international gathering of scouts during a camping trip. These were tribesmen, and all background players. None of them were given names. And they only visited Bedrock for a scant second. The place is a little like Philomath, Oregon. It's a gravel town. There just aren't any black people living there. Producers posed with the question, "Why aren't there any ethnic folks on The Flintstones?" Always answer with, "The show was based on The Honeymooners, and there weren't any black people on that show either." That's a loose slap, as the real reason there weren't any black people on The Flintstones was that it was made during the mid-sixties. A time when segregation was still rampant, and Martin Luther King Jr. was just coming into prominence as an important Civil Rights Leader. Blacks and Whites didn't often co-mingle within the warm glow of the television screen. We had Clarence Williams III on The Mod Squad, which came at the end of the decade, after King's Death. And we had Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, which hit in 66. But that was it. Some could flag the The Flintstones as a racist cartoon, but it was really just a sign of the times. Hanna-Barbara recognized this injustice way before Flintstones: The Movie hit screens in 1994 with Sharon Stone in tow. In 1986, the world-renown Saturday morning animators debuted the series The Flintstone Kids, which totally abolished the cannon as far as backstories go. It revolved around Fred, Barney, Wilma, and Betty as juvenile playmates who are constantly getting into one scrape after the next. Joseph and William used this platform to launch their first African-American caveman character into the lexicon. Philo Quartz was a budding private eye and his father Officer Quartz was the town sheriff. Together, they often helped the kids investigate mysteries and resolve disputes. What ever became of Philo? According to legend, Philo and his singe father moved to Antlantrock, which was soon consumed by a tarpit. That's why we never see him in the old series as an adult. And it's why he's not in either of the two movies. Though he is fondly remembered as the first black caveman, it seems we've seen the last of this little whippersnapper. Boo!
I hope this short journey through some of the lesser-known aspects of black entertainment has enlightened your February ride. Always remember: Eat food! Kill Grandma! Whoop-doo! And Philo Quartz.