Jonathan Poritsky

Tribeca 2008: Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha

Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha Tribeca Still

I make films like I make food: if you don’t like it, I’ll just be eat­ing it all week for leftovers.”

–Melvin Van Peebles, after the pre­miere of his 2008 film “Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus Itchy-Footed Mutha”

Perhaps it was because I was sit­ting in a uni­ver­sity audi­to­rium that I was sud­denly rock­eted back to my film school days while watch­ing the lat­est film “of” Melvin Van Peebles. Back then, I would have been snig­ger­ing through my fin­gers as the rau­cous movie veered out of con­trol around every sin­gle cor­ner, and when it was all over and the lights went up, I would have over-analyzed the shit out of it and bla­tantly made fun of my col­league in class.

On its sur­face, “Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha” resem­bles the worst of stu­dent film stereo­types, replete with sex, knives, con­fused edit­ing tech­niques, and above all, a mes­sage that it so con­vo­luted and over­done that it has got­ten lost among the screen-pollution you wit­ness while watch­ing it. That being said, I’m try­ing to fig­ure out just why I loved this film.

The story goes like this. Mr. Van Peebles plays the lead role, one can never quite grasp his name, as an old man com­ing to terms with his life. He sits down in a dark and smoky room and begins his tale of woe for the cap­tive audi­ence. The rest is the story of his life told through flash­backs. His career in the mer­chant marine, his busi­ness ven­ture with an addle-brained cohort, his first and only love, his jour­ney to find solace in the heart of Africa and his sub­se­quent escape from civil war there. All star the 75 year-old Van Peebles at vary­ing stages of life, and all seem to take place in the same era, the cur­rent day. For exam­ple, you might see the elder film­maker at school talk­ing to other kids, or run­ning away from home with a tin of money he had saved since he was born. No effort is made to dress up the sets to feel as though they are in a par­tic­u­lar period.

While it might help focus the audi­ence if we could have a coher­ent pic­ture of this man’s his­tory, Mr. Van Peebles’s for­mal choices, or lack thereof, help drive his char­ac­ter home for us. In other words, to be dis­tracted by the logic that we do not see in this film is fool­ish. We receive just a clear a pic­ture of our lead­ing man’s life with all the silli­ness of watch­ing an old man act like a child. It is clear who he is and why he has lived his life the way he has. On top of all of that, as should be clear from the title, he is not a trust­wor­thy nar­ra­tor. It is con­ceiv­able that his tales of intrigue and sex­ual con­quest are but a fab­ri­ca­tion cre­ated to make it eas­ier for him to sleep at night.

I don’t think I’ve yet made you aware of how silly this movie gets. Here are some bul­let points:

  • While in the mer­chant marine, Mr. Van Peebles’s ship cap­tain blows up a rival pirate ship (whose cap­tain is played by the director’s son, Mario Van Peebles) and our hero is show­ered in gore. Grabbing arms as they land on him, he scratches his back and his crotch with the expected sound effects
  • On the same voy­age, he spends his leave time seduc­ing lit­tle old ladies, mak­ing love to them and using their checkbooks
  • In an effort to escape the clutches of a dic­ta­tor in Africa, he runs through the jun­gle and is encoun­tered by a randy gorilla, whose clutches he nar­rowly escapes only by pulling on its privates.
You can also expect the film to quickly rush into trippy effects around almost every cor­ner. The pic­ture changes color con­stantly, there are count­less image over­lays, and car­toon sound effects are used to hilar­i­ous effect through­out. However, this just adds to the charm of the piece. We have become far too hung up on plot in our cin­ema, so it is nice to see such an inter­est­ing (to say the least!) char­ac­ter study.

When the book is closed on Melvin Van Peebles, he will unques­tion­ably be remem­bered by his 1971 inde­pen­dent hit “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”. Though he had made higher pro­file films before that one and has made quite a few since, it is the film that is syn­ony­mous with his name and con­sid­ered the prog­en­i­tor of the blax­ploita­tion film move­ment. The incen­di­ary film broke down bar­ri­ers and opened up oppor­tu­ni­ties for gen­er­a­tions of black film­mak­ers. Since the 1970s, how­ever, this scruffy sus­pendered vision­ary has pulled back from the main­stream. Left to his own devices, he has been mak­ing the films he wants to make, for him. One must respect his audac­ity. If this film ever makes it to DVD, I highly rec­om­mend you add it to your queue.

One Comment

  1. […] I caught the flick at Tribeca 2008 and, oh, what a scene it was. Originally posted on the offi­cial Poritsky Blog, here is my orig­i­nal review/gut-reaction of this, shall we say, interesting […]

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