At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA

By • Jun 18th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

Let’s hear it for film music composer Harry Betts. There are actual (or synthesized) pan pipes worked into the score, a long aesthetic reach for a Blaxploitation film, even if it was shot a little bit closer to the Andes, in the Phillipines.

Act one is pure, unadulterated exploitation foolishness. The actors (all women) aren’t even pretending to be apprehensive on the ride to their jungle jail. They’re treating it more like a vacation. Once there, the obligatory nude shower scene sports an endless soundtrack loop wherein the inmates are giggling and laughing as they soap themselves and each other up, while we periodically cut to a closet space adjoining the shower room where, in bogus disco club lighting, the evil female prison guard is peeking through a hole in the wall and masturbating to the steamy spectacle. She (Lynn Borden) is channeling Ahna Capri, a wonderful actress whose DARKER THAN AMBER with Rod Taylor and William Smith came out two years earlier.

Next we find them in their sleeping quarters inquiring about how they might escape, odd since they’re smoking dope, smiling and preening. It’s like summer camp!

Then there’s the requisite mess hall scene (but don’t expect WHITE HEAT). And finally, Pam and Maggie are put into the ‘box’ to sweat off their misbehavior. As they exit the torture chamber, we get to see Pam’s breasts, which have dramatically different sized nipples. I wonder which one Richard Pryor preferred…?

After 23 minutes of these exploitative shenanigans the antagonistic protagonists escape into the underbrush, handcuffed together like Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in THE DEFIANT ONES, and things get a little bit more creative. Disguising themselves as nuns is the first clever script idea, and they get some good mileage out of it, both visually and verbally.

40 minutes in we finally meet Sid Haig, who is his usual colorful self. In fact his outfit is so colorful that it is the best way to judge the BluRay’s color transfer. The close-ups of his shirt are eye-popping, brighter and snappier than the long shots. But that I attribute to the camera lenses. It’s an excellent transfer.

The commentary track is provided by Andrew Leavold, a pleasant, historically well-informed voice whose biographical information on the actors, crew and country come in fits and starts and are definitely worth the listen. Andrew emailed me many moons ago, looking to interview me about my film work. We became friends, and he visited me when he came to NYC. I showed him the whispering arch in Grand Central, took him to Broadway and 46th where he could hear the Morlocks under the street, and from there we visited The Dakota, Satan’s nesting place in ROSEMARY’S BABY and the scene of John Lennon’s demise. I also had him do a guest lecture in my film history class at SVA. His tenacity in pursuit of Filipino super star Weng Weng was formidable. I invested in his Kickstarter documentary campaign, and reaped a Weng-Weng bobblehead for my investment, about which I am really quite pleased. It sits proudly on my film souvenir shelf alongside the PR electric chair from Wes Craven’s SHOCKER.

In the commentary, Andrew points out that while most of these Filipino exploiters were depicted as having taken place in anonymous South American countries, this one demonstrates indigenous filmmaker Eddie Romero’s sly way of undercutting the anonymity and identifying the environment as uniquely Philippine through its use of locations, animals and other details.

There are also valuable interviews with Sid Haig, Maggie Markov, and (archivally) Romero. Nothing from Pam, however.

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