Oh Willie D
Based on the opening shots, it seems Willie Dynamite will latch onto Blaxploitation tropes. Dynamite (Roscoe Orman) drives through a glistening New York night. His purple and gold car reflects street lights, an exuberant, visually loud vehicle, even for a ’70s pimp. In the background his theme song plays. Near a high-class hotel, his women work over potential clients gathered for a small business meeting.
Willie slaps his women. He dresses in comically gaudy suits, wrapped in a wacky combination of fur and brightly colored silk. Willie Dynamite sells the life from a place of masculine power, where women forcibly stay trapped and submissive. Orman’s screen presence dominates, fearsome, and at times, barely controlled in his anger.
This aggressive posturing and mounting cliches lead a distinctive turn. That’s what marks Willie Dynamite; it’s about the breakdown of criminal lifestyles, while feeding a feminist spark. It’s titled Willie Dynamite – that sounds and looks great pouring from a poster – but this is Cora’s (Diana Sands) movie.
She’s the reformer, using her legitimate position of power as a social worker to expose the fraud of Dynamite. Cora takes a young prostitute, turning her toward modeling, away from Dynamite’s abuse. His women begin to rebel as they realize the truth of Dynamite’s scam. Later, Dynamite himself earns her empathy.
There’s truth to Willie Dynamite
There’s truth to Willie Dynamite
Willie Dynamite doesn’t merely spin itself on a clean axis. Issues of police brutality and racism do drop into this story. Blaxploitation, even in its surrealist form, still came from a place of reality. So too does Willie Dynamite.
What’s to come is the fall. Police begin a targeted take down, shuttering Dynamite’s illicit business, freezing his funds, impounding his car, and letting other pimps into the territory. The result is Dynamite running in cowardice. He doesn’t mow down police. He doesn’t kill rivals. He runs. That man in the beginning, a hero in most Blaxploitation cinema, begins to fall. Soon, he’s behind the wheel of his car crying. It’s a rare moment of emotional honesty in this genre.
Dynamite laughs as he sits at a kitchen table with Cora. “I guess I’m reformed,” he says, marveling at the system working, but acknowledging the effectiveness. There’s genuine remorse in his eyes. Women died under his watch. Another lost a promising modeling career to facial scarring.
There’s truth to Willie Dynamite. Maybe it’s too clean though. In the final shots, he’s goofing around with kids, playing football in the street while wearing a modest (if stylish) brown suit. Dynamite’s consequences extend only to his person. He avoids prison. That’s the fantasy at work, but Willie Dynamite’s positive themes, extending beyond the violence and hate, is an observant, intelligent take on progressive cinema.
Arrow credits MGM with this transfer. That’s for the best. It takes the blame away from them.
This isn’t a disaster, yet the idea of this being a new or modern scan stretches credibility. Heavy and overly thick grain indicates a lower resolution master and probably from a multi-generational source. Arrow’s encode luckily keeps everything contained. Messy as the grain structure looks, any digital intrusion is avoided.
Behind the film stock, a tepidly detailed presentation rests. Facial detail jumps when in close. Reasonable sharpness pulls moderate fidelity, as much as the lagging resolution can. Evidence of mild sharpening creates minor haloing in certain shots. High contrast edges reveal the most as is typical of a lightly touched up transfer.
Willie Dynamite sure is colorful though. Soaking in the ‘70s glamour, Dynamite’s rooms use red chairs, yellow walls, and multi-colored furniture. His purple suit glows when on screen, and fashionable certainly. Better still, that suit is this Blu-ray’s strongest asset.
Time doesn’t fade the imagery. Contrast has pep. Aside from a minor spot on occasion, damage and dirt remain a memory.
Rougher sequences in this PCM presentation sit with the source. An early scene with Willie in his “office” struggles because of camera noise in the background. Dubbing in a scene where local pimps gather stands out as coarse and thin.
Otherwise, Willie Dynamite struggles only a little, mostly because of budget and time. Soundtrack stability marches on, with sharp highs and a moderate bass line. Dialog audibility keeps itself in line.
Historian Sergio Mims provides a great, knowledgeable commentary that dissects themes, the production, and cast.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
A smart and observant take on the Blaxploitation genre, Willie Dynamite breaks with tradition to tell a truthful inner city story.
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