Watching the “coming attractions” for the upcoming Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about gangsta rappers N.W.A., brought out the excited boy in me; indeed, I havn’t been as thrilled to see a trailer since the days when every weekend bought a new cinematic delight to the local movie house. Back then, in the dark ages of the 1970s, me, baby brother Perky and our Harlem buddies, had no problem getting in to see R-rated films at the local theaters the Roosevelt, RKO Victoria and, our most frequented spot, the Tapia. Located on 147th and Broadway, four blocks from our building, the Tapia was a large single-screen theater where every Saturday or Sunday afternoon the crew stomped down Broadway four blocks to our movie wonderland.
With a crew that usually included Stanley, Kyle, Marvin, Beedie and Darryl (we all lived in the same building), we plunked down our coins and watched every picture about crazy southerners (White Lightening, Walking Tall), weird science fiction (West World, Soylent Green) karate/kung-fu (Bruce Lee Lives!) bad horror (Mark of the Devil, Trog) gritty crime flicks (French Connection, Serpico) and blaxploitation. For a time in the early ‘70s, every boy on the block wanted to be Shaft, Priest or one of the other tough guys we’d seen on the Tapia screen. My homie Kyle, who we all called Cheese, used to really dig Jim Kelly and started doing this weird martial arts moves before pressing the elevator button.
During the generation when Tricky Dick was in the White House, across the country many former picture show palaces with their faded luster and busted seats, were quietly transforming into grindhouses. While those broke-down theaters looked as though they might go bankrupt or catch on fire at any moment, projecting double, sometimes triple-features of cheesy flicks, kept them afloat during those hard times. In Chicago there was the Fox, in Baltimore there was the Hippodrome and in New York City, up in my neck of the Harlem woods, there was the Tapia.
Opening in 1913, the theater was originally called the Bunny. In the 1950s, when my mom was a teenager, the name was changed to the Dorset. By the time I started going there in the Afro funk era, most like the rest of New York City, the Tapia was decline. However, while the Roosevelt on 145th and 7th Avenue had a rep for its giant rats that ran over customer’s feet and the San Juan was just wack, the Tapia was a cool, clean spot without visible rodents.
A crumbling movie house with slopped floors, that joint was like our church where we sat in the darkness worshipping our badass heroes who were probably be blasting themselves out of a dangerous situation: be them Fred Williamson or Pam Grier, Max Julian or Tamara Dobson, Richard Pryor or Sheila Frazier, we saw everything at the Tapia. The theater was owned and operated by a Puerto Rican family that all worked together in the family business. More than once I watched the men changing the letters on the marquee on Thursday nights, standing on the wobbly metal ladder as they carefully placed each crimson colored letter next to the other.
2. ""Blaxploitation" doesn't necessarily mean "terrible picture&qu..." In response to Reply # 0 Mon Apr-06-15 11:53 AM by b.Touch
re: this paragraph:
"Some cats learnt how to be iceberg cold on the mic, because The Mack served as their instructional video of “the game.” Personally, it still bugs me out that the same person that directed The Mack also made the gritty and wonderful The Education of Sonny Carson, another one of those films like Sounder, Sparkle and Cooley High (a movie I still watch once a year) that were really quality films became stuck with the Blaxploitation label simply because the studio did know what to do with the project otherwise."
As the black version of the then-recently-popular "American Grafitti" and a production of the kings of exploitation, American International, "Cooley High" was labeled a blaxploitation film because that's what it was greenlit as. It just happened to be better than most (if not all) of the other films so categorized. It turned out far better than "Black Shampoo", that's for sure.
...not so with "Sparkle". Other than its being a period piece, not much separates "Sparkle" quality-wise from the average blaxploitation film (remember, some of those have a Lonette McKee caliber performance as well).
"Sounder", however, doesn't, in any way, qualify the "blaxploitation" tag.
Also, protests were only part of the end of blaxploitation. Diminishing returns (including the failure of "The Wiz") and the start of the shift of the film business towards the tentpole blockbuster both killed off blaxploitation (and by association most studio films with predominately black casts for some time afterwards).