R for violence, language, and nudity. A lot of language and a lot of nudity. Let's just attach sexual content to that nudity. It's a pretty risque movie. There's also drug use, but it is shown in an negative / unbeatable light. According to Dolemite is My Name, it prided itself on how much it could push questionable content. It's got everything in spades. This is beyond fast-forwarding. It's pretty consistent throughout the film. That being said, it's not like it transcends offensiveness. It just is fairly consistent throughout.
DIRECTOR: D'Urville Martin
I told you! I felt like a fraud! I couldn't be talking about Dolemite is My Name without watching the source material. And it was free on Tubi! Tubi means commercials, but not as many as I thought that there would be. I can't watch IMDb's video streaming service because of the commercials. But Tubi kept it pretty mild and it had a bunch of Dolemite movies. The long and short: would I watch more Dolemite? That's kind of a loaded question.
Dolemite has the reputation of being kind of a cult film. When I worked at Thomas Video, I remember seeing all the Rudy Ray Moore stuff in the cult area. Our cult section was a bit overwhelming. It's really hard to browse a cult section in a video store. Much like actual cults, the choices inside the cult section seem crazy and silly until you find the one that speaks to you and you devote your life to that entry. I learned quickly to not watch cult films blindly because sometimes I just don't get it. One thing that was pretty consistent with a lot of the cult films in that they were pretty low budget. That's not absolute. I think we also kept David Lynch's Dune in that section too, so it's not perfect. But Dolemite is, in my head, completely functional for a low budget blaxpoitation film.
Part of what could be disorienting about Dolemite is if you haven't seen other blaxspoitation films. I started in the deep end of the blaxspoitation pool: Black Samurai. I hadn't seen anything else in the genre before that point and I had no idea what I was signing up for. But nothing, and I mean nothing, has even gotten close to Black Samurai. I don't know if it was an insane level of self-awareness or what, but Black Samurai completely prepared me for anything that could be considered bananas in the blaxsploitation genre. The oddest thing that Dolemite really throws at me is the fact that Rudy Ray Moore doesn't really know kung fu, which is still pretty mild. People keep talking about the fact that Moore doesn't know kung fu. But that's kind of an element of the budget film. Maybe it's really Mystery Science Theater that ruined the ironic like for me.
This all sounds like I'm dancing around something. I think a lot of people go into Dolemite wanting to laugh AT it. Dolemite never really gets so bad that it is worthy of mockery. It's not a great movie. But it also is kind of just a bare-bones functional film. Rather than try to push a runtime it doesn't have a foundation for, the movie clocks in exactly at 1.5 hours. There's a lot of action in the movie and the tone is actually pretty consistent. Dolemite is My Name really stressed the DIY elements to the movie and those moments aren't really as present as you thought it would be. It just comes across as a cost-cutting film. I dare you to try to watch as many movies as you can at an impressive video store. A lot more of them have low budgets than have big budgets. If the idea of a cheap movie is enough to make you howl, then you have a large selection of things to laugh at.
To me, especially after watching the biopic (which clearly took some liberties with the story), Dolemite is The Little Engine That Could. There's a lot to say about DIY filmmaking and this movie really does what a lot of other movies did at the time. There are a lot of absurd moments of reasoning that we see in other movies of their ilk. The movie has a bunch of scenes that it really wants to do. These scenes are what drive the movie. That's fine. The rest of the scenes are a means to pad the movie a bit. In a lot of cases, these are scenes where Dolemite sleeps with ladies. Except without the sleep. I'm kind of a prude now that I have kids. Instead, like Kiss of Death, the movie does all it can to separate the protagonist from the antagonist in the hopes that when they collide, the world will explode. It's a sign of poor storytelling, but it's also Dolemite. It's meant to be a movie that showcases the talents of Rudy Ray Moore.
And it does what it sets out to do. This is a movie about Rudy Ray Moore's character. The movie starts off with him as a legend in his own right and he's trying to reclaim what's his. There's never a scene explaining who or what Dolemite is. Dolemite is Dolemite. That's all you need to know. Can he do it? Sure. Is the man after him? Definitely. Can Dolemite be taken down? Only if you decide to play against him unfair. It's a super simple formula. There's a lot of weirdly morally dubious moments. Like, Dolemite is all about prostitution, as long as he's running the bordello. That's what it takes to be a good guy. I think this is one of the movies that stresses that sex work is work. I can't say that I get behind that, but it also is part of the rule set that Dolemite establishes pretty early.
This leads to the big takeaway: watch Dolemite for what it is. If you find it hilarious to laugh at a low budget blaxspoitation film, I guess I can't stop you. I don't think Rudy Ray Moore would even hate that. Dolemite, because it is doing all it can to survive in a world that wants it to fail, is ultimately about how much fun you have with the movie. Me, I had some fun with it. I have watched way more difficult to watch movies this year. I had a good time with it. I don't know if I had so much fun that I'd want to watch everything in Moore's ouvre. But I'm glad I watched Dolemite. It did exactly what it was supposed to do, show me a good time for an hour and a half. That's all I asked for and that's exactly what I got.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.