This is perhaps Spike Lee's most controversial and extreme film. It's the culmination of his body of work and perhaps and attempt to top them all. This is not an easy task given his back catalog.
'Bamboozled' is the story of Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayons), a chief scriptwriter for a major TV network ('CNS'). He is suave, sophisticated, intelligent and also, a fake. His name is fake, so his is accent and perhaps even his talent. He affects a French name and a strange non-descript accent so people will not be disappointed by his less than spectacular background. His tastes and even feminine affectations almost seems like he's trying be diametrically opposed to what he thinks a 'black male' is.
His secretary is Sloane (Jada Pinkett Smith) who is also black and like Delacroix, is working 'above her background'. She is his faithful servant. Network 'CNS' is company with a largely white employeeship. White people are perhaps not portrayed all that well in this film however Delacroix's boss Dunwitty (Mike Rappaport) is even worse. He's a loud, vulgar caricature of what a network boss is like. He's married to a black woman and has multiracial children so this makes him more 'black' than the pseudo 'buppies' ('black yuppies') he sees around him. He sees himself as black so he feels free to constantly drop the 'n' word ('nigger') and surrounds himself with black icons and obje'ts de art. Spike Lee calls him a 'wigger'.
In the face of sliding ratings, Dunwitty wants something new in 'black' comedy or more correctly, comedy targeted towards a black audience. He wants something new, something not like the middle class black families shown on black comedies like the Cosbys.
Dunwitty drops this decree on Delacroix. Delacroix cannot deliver what he thinks is an impossible request. The only way out for him is to get fired so his contract is cancelled lest he lose his renumeration and get sued. He can't quit, he must be fired. It's up to him and Sloane to deliver a product so execreble that CNS has no choice but to terminate and pay out his employment contract.
Delacroix delivers the 'New Millenium Minstrel Show' - a dancing, singing variety show with black actors in 'blackface' makeup. You can't get Denzel to wear something as offensive as 'blackface' so he picks up two homeless dancing buskers to star in the two lead roles: Mantan and Sleep'n'Eat (Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson).
And this show is everything and more, full of slappin' ho's and 'Alabama Porch Monkeys' and fried chicken and watermelon eating slaves. Every possible stereotype is drawn out and it looks worse than it sounds on paper. However the people and the network eat it up. There are a couple of mock advertisments added to the network production and these are done with the same heavy-handed flair that one expects from Spike Lee. The 'Timmi Hilnigger' ads are especially nasty and it is strange to hear that the real Tommy Hilfigger has some words with Spike Lee about that.
It is Spike Lee's intention for you to laugh at these stereotypes as they are so offensive that they are funny. He even laughs in the commentary. This is also a highly self referential film with numerous winks to modern culture. At one point Dunwitty says that he not like that 'prick' Spike Lee (who is the screenwriter?). It's that sort of in-joke movie. It becomes so much that it's hard to tell what is a satire and what is a honest reference. At one point, one of the characters praises Spielberg for his ability to direct black dramas ('Colour Purple', 'Amistad') yet it is hard to tell whether this is a homage or satire. It is this blurring that is what Spike Lee is after.
The last half of the movie is devoid of laughs. That's where everything goes to pot. Everyone either gets what they deserve or they become victims after the laughs are gone and money is made. It is interesting to see how people take the this offensive show. Network spin doctors say that it has a 'social message'. Delacroix has never been appreciated for his past work so now that the 'industry' sees his genius with the Minstrel show, he takes pride in his abomination. His shock turns to pride once the accolades come in. It is interesting to see how he becomes 'Bamboozled' by his own press as it were.
The two leads are irrevocably changed by the show - they can't not work as they need the money but every show takes something out of them. Dunwitty is not changed, he wants more of the same. Sloane has to go along with it until it affects her personally.
Sloane's brother is in a revolutionary, militant rap group called the Mau Mau's. They are Black Panther style and it's also a satire of a rap group. They however find the Minstrel show not so funny so they decide to their right to be militant with tragic results. The end is not funny.
It is not surprising but deliciously ironic that this film and its offensive advertising was not well received by the American press, critics and the Academy of Motion Pictures. The caricature of a watermelon eating golliwog wasn't going to do much for race relations. We can look at it with a certain detachment over here but you can understand why Americans would find it offensive.
When I first started watching this disc, I was a bit shocked. There's just about every defect in the book. Suffice to say that this has everything. I looked at the film date and it said '2000' so obviously this is a new, fairly big budget movie. The directors' commentary explains all - the earlier scenes were shot on pro-sumer grade digital cameras for the documentary effect (Sony VX-1000 mini-DV for you Premiere jockeys). Parts of the film do look a little 'fly on the wall'. The film is shot pre- and post- 'Minstrel'. That is, the parts leading up to the syndicated Minstrel show are shot of multi DV-cams for that amateur effect. The parts after that are shot on traditional film.
The later parts of the film are textbook 16mm film based DVD transfer. The colours are big, bright, beautiful. The contrast is strong, shadow detail is excellent and it has that DVD 'pop' I keep talking about. I can only complain about some bloom on bright lighting and some isolated aliasing. Again it doesn't show up on progressive players but it does on every interlaced player I tried so I wonder if interlaced player just have this problem.
Sometimes there are cuts from 16mm film to DV-cam and back and it's noticeable in places but it's not as jarring as the introduction.
There are two tracks, a Dolby 5.1 and Dolby Stereo track. The focus will be the Dolby 5.1 448k/s track. It's everything one expects from Roadshow - a sharp, clear, dynamic track that transfers the original onto DVD effectively. The vocals are clear, the score has exceptional musicality and low-end . The music is effectively chosen drawing from the past and it disappears as sections demand. The bits shot on digital are mostly scoreless. The use of the rap pieces have strong use of bass and surrounds although they are largely unused except in music and audience participation sections. The music also never intrudes into dialog. The use of the Mau Mau's bass heavy music is where the bass frequencies come in. It's used to contrast the lighter tones of the Minstrel show and the acting performances - perhaps a 'back to earth' and contrast of race from the Minstrel show and the militant Black Panther message of the Mau Mau's.
If you want a stark quality difference, look at some of the extras. The audio quality is variable there with breakup and sometimes some poor vocalisation.