If you thought John Shaft was a bad mother-shut-yo'-mouth, allow me to introduce Dolemite — the fast-talking, ass-kicking, crime-fighting blaxploitation antihero also known as stand-up comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who died in October 2008, at age 81.
Other icons of the beloved camp filmmaking style, like Shaft and Pam Grier's characters Coffy and Foxy Brown, may have transposed genre characters like private eyes onto '70s African-American culture, but Dolemite was something else entirely. Like a soul-brother Paul Bunyan, there was no deed too grand for Dolemite: no Cadillac too opulent, no tall building he couldn't leap, no ninja hooker he couldn't smack down. Five years before the first Dolemite film was made in 1975 (Shaft came out in '71), Moore introduced the character on a comedy record, and its origins go back even further. Moore freely admitted that he first heard tales of the exploits of Dolemite as a teenager, from an ancient homeless man trading stories for pennies on the street. He took the character and ran with it, and in doing so, created not only an iconic place in entertainment history for himself, but also a cultural link between storytelling traditions reaching all the way back to Africa and up through things like Chappelle's Show.
Moore was a stylistic inheritor of party-record pioneers like the foul-mouthed comics Moms Mabley and Redd Foxx, and a precursor to acts like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. (Moore also has a strong local connection. Before discovering his calling as a comic, he tried his hand as a singer. In 1953, he traveled to New Orleans with the flamboyant crossdressing R&B performer Bobby Marchan and his Powder Box Revue as Marchan's personal assistant and valet.)
To simply call Moore's comedy routines blue would be a vast understatement about how colorfully he managed to make use of the lexicon of forbidden words and, to put it mildly, risqué concepts. At first, there were only two Dolemite movies — in the late '90s, a bizarre third movie, Shaolin Dolemite, featured original footage spliced into a vintage kung-fu flick — but Moore expanded the character's legend through wildly ribald, rhyming spoken-word pieces on his albums. "Hurricane Annie vs. Dolemite" (featured on the album This Pussy Belongs to Me) for example, is a grand, tall tale that reaches mythological levels in its recounting of an epic intercourse marathon between a pimp and a hooker; it's like Uncle Remus meets Iceberg Slim meets Penthouse Forum.
In celebration of Moore's life and work, DJ Soul Sister presents a film festival showcasing what most fans consider his best work: the two original Dolemite movies, Dolemite (1975) and The Human Tornado (1976), plus Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-In-Law (1978) and Disco Godfather (1979). Even more than the Dolemite stories, Petey Wheatstraw is a great example of Moore's connection to storytelling archetypes. It's a basic deal-with-the-trickster-god tale, in which Moore's character has to get out of a bargain to marry the Devil's hideously ugly daughter. There's also a fascinating and bizarre scene in which Moore, as Petey Wheatstraw, springs from the womb near-fully grown and ready to kick ass. (Maybe as a folklore study it's fascinating; in the movie, it's weird and sort of gross.)
Moore stayed active as a performer almost until his death, making cameos in films like the neo-blaxploitation flick B.A.P.S. and appearing on rap albums. He even appeared as an announcer at New Orleans' Ponderosa Stomp in 2003 and '04, cracking wise and rhyming till the very end. The four films selected for this week's mini-fest show him at his superhuman, potty-mouthed best.
DOLEMITE and THE HUMAN TORNADO
9 p.m. Tue., Jan. 13
DISCO GODFATHER and PETEY WHEATSTRAW
9 p.m. Wed., Jan. 14
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net