Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can't Entirely Hate Wal-Mart

As much as I hate the rise of the "big box" stores and the death of small independent retailers of all kinds -- but especially music and video stores -- I can't entirely hate Wal-Mart.

And the reason for my epiphany? I saw a copy of Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song on DVD in their racks!

Now let's think about this for a minute: Wal-Mart, a chain that will not carry unedited rap CDs is carrying what was an X-rated film upon its initial release. A film that is pretty much the antithesis of the Disney/Hannah Montana/Owen Wilson demographic of most of the crap on Wal-Mart DVD shelves.

Is this a case of a big, bad ("baadassss?") corporation co-opting the counter-culture (well, a past counter-culture)? No.

Have things progressed to the point that this film is now longer shocking? Probably not. I think most suburban moms would be a bit surprised if they were to watch the film.

(A sidenote is the rise of Wal-Mart exclusively hawking AC/DC's newest CD; Maybe I'm an old man saying this, but I can recall when AC/DC were actually a bit dangerous -- or at least convincingly pretending to be dangerous. Rock is safe, now, and rap -- unedited rap, especially -- is still too dangerous for Wal-Mart to sell.)

I was a bit speechless upon seeing the film in there.

After all, Blockbuster still won't carry the unrated version of Lust, Caution or any version of Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.

I first heard of this film on one of Siskel & Ebert's "guilty pleasures" shows on their old PBS "Sneak Previews" program.

I was a fat, geeky 13-year-old and thrilled that Ebert chose "Infra-Man" which I had seen at the drive-in on its first release run in the United States. And I *think* that it was Siskel who chose Sweet Sweetback. This link expresses some similar thoughts.

(I always liked his reviews better, for what it's worth. And there are many, many films I sought out as I got older based on my memories of a Siskel rave.)

I wrote to the duo once around that era (1979) and I got a form letter back but it was still thrilling to me at the time.