Bamboozled (Criterion Collection) Blu-ray Review


2020 has shown us just how racist the U.S., and the people who live in it, can be, but there was a film, made twenty years ago, that was saying many of the same things that people are pointing our today. Bamboozled was that film and it was given a place in the Criterion Collection this year. This is a film that everyone needs to see and this is the release to see it with.


Studio: Criterion
Release Date: October 20th, 2000 (theatrical) / March 17th, 2020 (blu-ray)
Run Time: 136 mins
Region Code: A (locked)
Picture: 1080p (1.77:1 aspect ratio)
Sound: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Slipcover: No
Digital Copy: No
Starring: Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Michael Rapaport
Written by Spike Lee
Directed by Spike Lee
Rating: R (strong language and some violence)

THE FILM



Dark, biting satire of the television industry, focusing on an Ivy League educated black writer at a major network. Frustrated that his ideas for a "Cosby Show"-esque take on the black family have been rejected by network brass, he devises an outlandish scheme: reviving the minstrel show. This is the hook: Instead of white actors in black face, the show stars black actors in even blacker face. The show becomes an instant smash, but with the success also come repercussions for all involved.

BAMBOOZLED is a hard film to watch. Blackface has always been something that has bothered me. I honestly can’t tell you where I saw it first, but I can tell you that it bothered me then as it does now. The idea that white people hated black people so much that they figured out how to demoralize them in the worst possible way. In BAMBOOZLED, there is the scene where Manray and Womack are putting on the blackface for the first time and we here Jada Pinkett-Smith narrating how the process, or ritual, of making the materials to make the blackface. It was then when I realized that "THERE WAS A RITUAL? Why?"

Spike Lee takes these feelings and rubs them in your face. He wants us to feel uncomfortable. He wants to get the emotions that we don't want to give up. He wants us to see what we normally look away from. This is a bold move by by a director who is bold in more ways than this.

The film is a comedy and the question remains: Is it funny? Yes, it is. The satire is on point from the minstrel show itself to the commercials for Da Bomb Multliquior and the Tommy Hilfiger one that I won't repeat. There is a segment of one of the episodes of the minstrel show where Manray (renamed Mantan) and Womack (renamed Sleep 'n Eat) sneak into a chicken coop and do a routine that is very Loral and Hardy. This and some of the stuff with the rap group is funny.

That being said, the film isn't perfect. The audition scene goes on for far too long and the stuff with the rap group begs down the film. The last third of the film also feels rushed as if Lee had to get everything he needed said in a very short amount of time. Towards the end of the film, Pinkett-Smith goes to Wayans' office with a gun. I didn't feel like her story lead up to this moment and it felt forced.

There is a podcast that I listen to, which I will not name, whose host thinks that Spike Lee is a hack director. While one may not like Spike Lee or the films that he makes, calling him a hack is shallow. Lee has four bonafide masterpieces to his name (DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X, FOUR LITTLE GIRLS, and 25TH HOUR) and you can always tell when you are watching a Spike Lee joint. No hack directors out there can make claims like these. You may not agree with Lee's viewpoints or even the films that he has made, but you have to admit that he is very talented at what he does and he doesn't bow down to the masses to get his message across.


Watching BAMBOOZLED, I heard someone say "Why don't people go after Tyler Perry like they do Spike Lee?" It's an excellent question. Spike Lee gets a lot of hate for making "black films" while Perry gets the praise for doing the same. It was BAMBOOZLED that finally revealed the answers to me. Lee makes films that make people question their own way of thinking. Did Mookie do the right thing? Did Malcolm X deserve the hate? What can the hottest summer day do to race relations that are falling apart?  These are important questions and not the only important ones that Lee raises.

Perry makes minstrel shows, much like the ones seen in BAMBOOZLED. He has his black characters running around acting like fools while the audiences laughing at buffoonery. In BAMBOOZLED, there a montage at the end of all the offensive things that white Hollywood did to its black actors including putting them in blackface. They were demeaned, laughed at, treated like utter shit. While Perry doesn't treat his actors like shit (that we know of), he does present his characters in a very similar fashion to the minstrel shows of old. He markets his media to the masses and sells his soul to do it. Perry should be criticized for what he does but he plays to the masses so he doesn't get looked at. Lee tries to challenge your way of thinking. This means that he is more a devil to the media and the public than Perry is even if is the other way around.

BAMBOOZLED is a hard film to watch, but that is the point. We need to examine our past and learn from it and this is how we learn from it. We look at the ugliness of our past in the face and denounce it. We definitely do not like what we see, but we still need to do it. Lee gets great performances out of his cast, there are some genuinely funny scenes in the film, and I like the way the film was shot. BAMBOOZLED has a relevance today that we couldn’t have seen twenty years ago. Hopefully, in another twenty years, it doesn’t become our future.

THE PICTURE AND THE SOUND



Presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.77:1 (even though it was shown theatrically and on dvd in 1.85:1), BAMBOOZLED is an interesting title when it comes to how it was shot. Lee elected to shoot the film on MiniDV, which is in standard definition, to keep the cost of the film down. While many complain about the look of the film, I think it looks fine. I mean, it looks crappy, sure, but the guerilla style that Lee shoots in gives the film a more intimate feel. It also helps separate the film stuff from the minstrel show segments, which were shot on 16mm. The show segments look great and definitely stand out from the rest of the film. They are colorful and full of life. The MiniDV stuff looks better than one would imagine, although there will never be a real HD version of these scenes.

The sound, in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, sounds good. The dialogue, for the most part sounds great, and the wonderful score from Terrence Blanchard sounds just right.

THE PACKAGING




THE FEATURES


Commentary by writer/director Spike Lee


In Conversation: Spike Lee with Ashley Clark (25m 41s, HD)


Manray and Womack (22m 54s, HD)


Ruth E. Carter (10m 30s, HD)


On Blackface and the Minstrel Show (17m 38s, HD) Author Racquel Gates, associate producer of cinema and media studies at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, explores Lee’s radical work Bamboozled and it’s critique of the appropriation of black culture in popular media.


The Making of “Bamboozled” (53m 20s, SD, 1.85:1)

Deleted Scenes (17m 4s, SD)


         -Manray and Womack Talk Sloan
         -Dunwitty and Dela Discuss the Pilot
         -Delacroix Meets Jukka
         -Wishing Good Luck
         -Delacroix Visits His Mother
         -Mantan Live at the Apollo
         -Big Black and 1/16th Log On
         -Manray Gets Fired
         -Manray’s Alley Dance
         -The Hostage Crisis
         -Alternate Dance of Death

Music Videos and Commercials (18m 38s, SD, 1.33:1)


-Mau Maus: Blak Iz Blak
-Mau Maus: Blak Iz Blak (old version)
-Gerald Levert: Dream with No Love
-”Da Bomb” spots
-”Timmi Hillni**er” spots

Poster Gallery (2m 37s, SD) Autoplays with selections from the film’s score.

Trailer (2m 26s, SD, 1.85:1)

This is a great selection of special features, mixing the old with the new. I would talk about which ones are my favorites, but all of these features are good, with not one bad one. Every one of these features is worth the time and I can not recommend them high enough.

THE WRAP-UP



BAMBOOZLED is a smart film that takes a stab at race in America and hit the nail on the head with every swing. The satire here is multilevel and wins almost every time. The only thing that I didn’t like about the film was a few of the subplots, but everything else is right on. The blu-ray, from Criterion, is a wonderful release with some of the best special features of 2020.

THE SCREENSHOTS



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