The Film Comment Podcast: The Maverick Movies of Melvin Van Peebles
This week on the podcast, we went long on an American filmmaker like no other: Melvin Van Peebles. Known for groundbreaking classics like Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, Van Peebles invented entirely new cinematic languages while offering trenchant visions of Black American life and masculinity.
In 1968, the director made his feature debut with The Story of a Three Day Pass, a dazzlingly multi-layered film about an African-American soldier’s dalliance with a white French woman in Paris. With the film returning to screens this week in a brand-new restoration, Film Comment editors Devika Girish and Clinton Krute reached out to two Van Peebles superfans: filmmaker Ephraim Asili, director of The Inheritance, and writer and film editor Blair McClendon. We discussed Van Peebles’ work and fascinating life, and even got a peek into Ephraim’s extensive collection of Melvin Van Peebles ephemera. (Click the GIF to watch the video).
Listen to the full conversation below. And don’t forget to sign up today for the Film Comment Letter, our free digital newsletter that delivers original film criticism and writing directly to your inbox every Thursday.
Links & Things:
The Story of a Three Day Pass (Melvin Van Peebles, 1968)
Watermelon Man (Melvin Van Peebles, 1970)
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971)
Classified X (Mark Daniels, 1998)
How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (And Enjoy It!) (Joe Angio, 2005)
Van Peebles’s 1969 album Brer Soul
Huey P. Newton on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song in The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service
The Learning Tree (Gordon Parks, 1969)
Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967)
Paris Blues (Martin Ritt, 1961)
Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960
The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili, 2020)