Re-Viewdy Ray Moore Project #2 Dolemite (1975)
The purpose of fight sequences is generally to establish that an action hero is doing much, if not all, of his fighting himself, that he or she is willing to risk near-certain death, the way Tom Cruise does in all of the Mission Impossible movies, for the sake of a more convincing action set-piece.
The fight scenes in Rudy Ray Moore’s legendary 1975 starring debt Dolemite serve a much different purpose. Judging from the way the way these scenes are choreographed, staged and filmed Moore didn’t even need to be on set for his fight scenes because his stunt doubles did all of his fighting for him. He could have taken a quick nap in his trailer, or, given the film’s micro-budget, the back set of his car, and come back after enough shots had been filmed that an “action” sequence could be pieced together through the magic of editing.
Dolemite’s fight scenes all follow a consistent pattern. Whenever a fight is about to happen, director D’Urville Martin, who does double duty as Dolemite’s arch-nemesis Willie Green, will very ostentatiously cut to a shot of Dolemite’s back, and then to someone wearing Moore’s flamboyant clothes and many enormous hats whose face we never see executing one or two basic kicks or punches.
After that remedial bit of action has been resolved we very awkwardly cut back to Moore as Dolemite standing awkwardly over whoever he is supposed to have just beaten up, looking undeservedly proud and vaguely confused at the same time.
Among its many bewitching peculiarities, Dolemite is a blaxploitation action movie vehicle for a squat, pot-bellied middle aged man who seemed eager to relegate all action movie heroics to stunt doubles. Moore as Dolemite wears such enormous, extravagant outfits, has such a magnificent afro and sports so many enormous hats that Cynthia Rothrock or Billy Barty or Ace Frehley could have doubled for Moore and no one would notice.
Heck, the Chuck Norris Karate School is thanked in the credits, so maybe it’s the future Walker, Texas Ranger star himself throwing kicks and punches on Moore’s behalf.
When Dolemite is called upon to sexually satisfy the many prostitutes in his sexual thrall Moore is most assuredly in the frame. When a prostitute is gushing about how no man has ever, nor will ever, be able to satisfy her sexually like Dolemite, Moore is, if anything, hyper-present. It’s almost as if the many gratuitous scenes where sexy women fling themselves at the then-47-year-old “action” star are the whole reason he made the movie in the first place.
Rudy Ray Moore, Tommy Wiseau and Neil Breen are not wrong in thinking that sex sells, that a low-budget movie without big name stars can only benefit commercially from a few tasteless, surreally gratuitous and unnecessary sex scenes. They are most assuredly wrong, however, in thinking that what the moviegoing public really wanted was to see their weird, middle-aged bodies doing the fucking rather than the conventionally beautiful women they’re paying to have sex with them onscreen.
Dolemite is depicted as being such a masterful lover, such a world-class lady’s man that he’s doing sex workers young enough to be his daughter a tremendous favor both by working selflessly as their pimp and protector and blessing them with his incredible love-making process.
Like simpatico auteurs Breen and Wiseau, Moore seems to have labored under the delusion that filmgoers of the world salivated to see as much of his naked body as possible. He clearly felt an obligation to give the people what he imagined they desperately wanted.
When Dolemite is sprung from jail and has an interracial threesome with two of his adoring prostitutes in the back of a limousine it’s achingly apparent that Moore thinks that his unclothed body is as big an attraction and draw as those of the beautiful women he’s having sex with.
In Dolemite Moore is either distressingly naked or near-naked, or wearing way the fuck too much clothes. Moore makes Dolemite’s iconic hero a true sport, a dandy, a clotheshorse who leaves prison wearing a suit “The Man” gave him, so he immediately changes into a baby-blue tuxedo, complete with hat and bow-tie, just so that the prostitutes lucky enough to get to have sex with him first will have flashy threads to remove during the early stages of their threesome on wheels.
How flashy is this Dolemite motherfucker? He dresses up just to get naked.
But when he’s dressed oh boy is Dolemite ever dressed. Judging from the outfits he favors us with, most of Dolemite’s tiny budget went to pay for hats, bow-ties and capes. Dolemite’s “girls” are all scantily clad as advertising but also because all of the fabric in town has been used to make Dolemite’s outfits. If the clothes make the man then this Dolemite is one bad motherfucker.
In Dolemite the way too old Moore is a fascinating, utterly unique combination of unlikely sex god/weirdly paternalistic great uncle type. Instead of taking their money or strong-arming the appreciative and adoring working girls in his employ, you half-expect him to ask them about their classes, give them some walking-around money, hand them some butterscotch candy and remind them to eat.
In Dolemite the corrupt establishment shamefully separates Dolemite from the prostitutes that need him and his wisdom, as well as his sweet, sweet loving, for two years on some old bullshit. Many stables would fall apart in the absence of a pimp like Dolemite but Dolemite raised his girls to be stronger than that, to be women of character and substance, not just women of the night. So they heroically sublimated their blinding, all-consuming lust for Dolemite, lover, protector, savior, everything, into learning karate and becoming a fearsome force of karate-chopping badass prostitutes.
That’s the crazy thing about Moore as a preposterous, wonderfully unlikely movie star: he was at once an outrageous outlaw figure, a bawdy, womanizing, sex god pimp, player and hustler and an oddly wholesome figure, a guy who might be on the wrong side of the law or into some shady shit but was invariably on the side of good. He may have the devil’s flash (one of his outsized outlaw anti-heroes was even related to the big red guy through marriage) but he was on the side of the angels and STRONGLY against the angel dust-ah.
It’s presumably because he IS such a force for good in the universe that Dolemite is sprung from prison after serving only two years thanks to Queen Bee (Lady Reed), a friend who lobbied the warden for Dolemite’s release until he finally agreed to grant it on the basis that Dolemite go undercover for the governor to bring down Willie Green (Martin), the no-good back-stabbing villain who set Dolemite up, then took over his club The Total Experience.
Wish fulfillment has always been a big part of blaxploitation’s appeal. In a pre-Shaft world actors who looked like Rudy Ray Moore were expected to prostrate themselves before the white establishment, to be sexless and docile, smiling and uncomplaining, to embody the stereotypes and prejudices of the time.
Blaxploitation changed everything. Suddenly it wasn’t just acceptable to tell whitey to kiss your black ass: it was all but expected. Dolemite is the work of a man liberated to be his baddest, most powerful, most iconic and badass self by the freedoms of blaxploitation, various cultural revolutions, sexual and otherwise, and the black power movement.
In Dolemite the title character calls sweaty, cheap Sears suit-clad exemplars of caucasian corruption a bunch of insecure, pepper gut, no business having motherfuckers because it feels good and righteous and true to do so, but also because he’s speaking up for all of the brothers who never had a voice before, who had no choice but to be silent because the white world wouldn’t allow them to speak.
Profanity was Rudy Ray Moore’s superpower. It was his rocket fuel. He perfected profanity. He didn’t just use “motherfucker” and “bitch” (pronounced bi-otch!); he owned them. He made them his own. He damn well could have copyrighted them with a clear conscience. Moore could be exquisitely stiff and stilted as an actor but he came alive when lovingly delivering long strings of weirdly wordy insults rich in pulpy profanity and crawling with creative curse words.
As the king of the party records, Moore knew firsthand how lucrative a potty mouth could be but there was also something liberating and cathartic about Dolemite’s explosions of pointed profanity. In Dolemite it is a tool of funky righteousness that is tremendously powerful when directed at the right people.
By the “right people” I of course mean “white people.” When he isn’t having sex with his grateful girls, entertaining the masses with his patented proto-rap routines or kicking ass, Dolemite is sticking to the “Man” who here take the form of an evil, corrupt white mayor who, for extra spice is killed not long after an interracial threesome with his wife and one of Dolemite’s ladies, and corrupt cops who positively sweat oily white evil.
It’s the revenge of the repressed, a lurid revenge fantasy from a fascinatingly peculiar individual that somehow took fire in the public imagination and went on to inform the art and aesthetic of, among others, Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who paid Dolemite the ultimate compliment when it became the foundation of his solo career defining smash video “Baby, I Got Your Money.”
For the “Baby, I Got Your Money” clip, “Hype” Williams combined shots from the “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” video with clips from Dolemite, including some where, though digital editing, ODB becomes beloved supporting character Creeper/Hamburger Pimp, a junkie whose life Dolemite briefly enlightens, or maybe the other way around.
It’s fucking iconic is what is, at once supremely, transcendently dated and oddly timeless. ODB and Dolemite are a spiritual match made in heaven, oddly simpatico cultural and cult forces.
Rudy Ray Moore is widely credited as one of the godfathers of Hip Hop, as a pioneer whose routines laid the groundwork for Hip Hop and who was treated as a hero and an inspiration by the entire genre and many of its most brilliant and accomplished practitioners. Moore was rhyming rhythmically over funky music long before the cultural Big Bang of The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” took Hip Hop national and mainstream.
Dolemite is Hip Hop to its core. It’s bold, brash and defiant, nakedly sexual and utterly unabashed in its embrace of violence and profanity. The very familiar elements of sex and violence, defiance and profanity, music and fashion come together here to create something utterly unique and crazily original, a movie as wildly entertaining as it is influential.
Moore’s first gift to American film and pop culture ends by all but promising a sequel. That might seem awfully presumptuous coming from a man pushing fifty who had never even acted in a movie before but it’s also commensurate with the wildly misplaced confidence, bordering on cockiness, that makes this one of the most spectacularly enjoyable, eminently re-watchable bad movies ever made.
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