|Title:||Welcome Home, Brother Charles|
|06.06.07||Alamo Downtown|| Alright. Now this is something worth talking about. Tonight the Alamo played host to writer/director/producer/sometime editor/composer Jamaa Fanaka. Truth be told the only film of his I'd seen before was Penitentiary but I'd heard many many good and crazy things about this film (AKA Soul Vengeance). In fact, I found a copy of it online but have held off on watching it just so I can have my first viewing experience be here at the Alamo, who've played their trailer of it to much laughter and cheering. The trailer has this great narration of the title over and over. It's got a really odd tone but it's clearly angry and "social" and doesn't really look like anything too sensational or shocking until someone like Wiley tells you about how that one guy actually gets choked.|
So the first show ran way late, but right at the end the director mentioned how Fanaka had given him his first working job on a movie (electric on Penitentiary 2) and said he was a really nice guy with great stories. I got my first glimpse of him, looking way less militant than I (for whatever reason) expected. He was out in the lobby selling DVDs of most of his films. I picked up Soul Vengeance and Black Sister's Revenge (AKA Emma Mae, another film I've heard a lot about) and while he was signing them Lars gave me a Mr. Goodbar (to come in handy later). Mr. Fanaka had a real easy speaking rythm that was kind of hard to hear in the cacophony of the lobby but midway through signing my second disc he started saying something to me and I leaned in to make out what he was telling me: "I almost made a mistake. I was about to write 'peace, love, and good pussy' I better put 'soul' instead." I wanted to tell him that they were synonymous in my mind but was overcome with fanboy glee for some reason.
Not a lot of people paid for Brother Charles. It reminded me a lot of Richard Rush. The people that were there were fans though. When Lars introduced him (maybe the most excited I've seen him since Rush was here, if not ever) he got a strong enough welcome and told us about how he made this film. To hear him say it, he's a poster boy for affirmative action because he was actually physically on his way to do an armed robbery that may very well have changed his life forever when he saw a sign saying "UCLA: You are welcome" so instead he looked into that and somehow got accepted into the film school there. He talked a bit about how all students have to make a "project one" which is basically a minute-long thing with no synch sound or anything, just film. Then for a "project two" students typically deliver a 2-3 minute short with sound and everything. Well, this movie was his project two. He said his professors laughed at his ambitious craziness to deliver a 100-minute feature-length film while all of his peers worked on something fifty times as short. So having this fact in the back of my mind amazed me that the movie comes together at all. I mean, I've taken a few film classes. I know what kind of stuff gets made. And it's not like this was his thesis film. This was like, just an assignment. So that really impressed me. The aggressiveness of his outlook in saying 'hey, if i have the resources here, why waste time on some little thing when I could make something real.' I HAVE to imagine it was a good day when Crown International called him to say they were distributing hisWelcome Home, Brother Charles.
And I'm glad they did because, even without the ultra-low expectations of having it be a student film, this movie is worth watching (worth owning in my opinion). And it's not just because there's a scene where the main guy strangles a dude with his 9-foot long anaconda-like cock. I mean sure that is A reason, but not THE reason.
Brother charles is some sort of drug dealer who meets this other guy in a trashy hotel room for a drug deal. They get wise to the police van following them and try to walk away but Charles isn't quite as good at intimidating white people as his buddy so he gets nabbed in front of a group of prostitutes crying his freedom. En route to booking, one of the cops, having a particularly bad day sicne he found out Charles' buddy has been giving his wife more than he can, takes out his aggressions in the form of a backseat beating and attempted castration. This leads to a one-sided courtroom scene and a montage fueled by black and white stills of Charles serving out his sentence. Once out he's determined to go straight, meets up with that hooker who kinda liked him before, and starts into a romantic drama movie with him looking for work and whatnot. And then he sees the bad cop on TV one night and goes crazy with revenge. From there, he starts a series of home invasions where he shows the wives of his targets his junk which simultaneously seduces and hypnotizes them into letting him in later at night so he can strangle his oppressors with his manhood. Eventually the cops catch on and corner him on a rooftop where he threatens to jump. Brought in to talk sense to him, his girlfriend takes one look at the situation and yells "JUMP!" Credits roll.
I can see how some might be disappointed if they were expecting a movie filled with penis-strangling craziness. This is not that kind of movie. Instead, it's a much more challenging and meaningful statement from Fanaka's point of view, and he uses the big shock in a way to really say something more than "buy a ticket." I don't actually get a very big exploitation vibe from either of his movies that I've seen. Brother Charles, a revenge tale you'd think would be filled with honkeys gettin what's comin to them, stays surprisingly reserved until the last few minutes when it really slaps you in the face with what you're seeing. I love how he used something as potently symbolic to prove his point in a really overt Fuller-esque way but also be funny about it. Being serious and discontent and opinionated yet also entertaining and (deliberately) hilarious is a pretty funny mix to pull off. You don't see it too often.
Luckily, all the freebie Weird Wednesday people were forced to hear all about this movie and probably left thinking they had missed something unbelievable. Serves them right.