No better way to start out this Thanksgiving vacation than with Jive Turkey, aka Baby Needs A New Pair of Shoes (1974). And what better way for a film to start other than the disclaimer “names, places and events have been changed to protect the innocent” displayed to the strains of ack-ack guitar?
This film comes at you from left field, yet somehow seems so right. “Time” should have been added to the disclaimer, as we are told the story is set in 1956, yet apart from some smooth vintage Caddys and some skinny ties, just about everything here is saying ’74. Not to say that that takes away from the fun or funkiness, au contraire. This film revolves around The Pasha (a stone-cool yet righteous Paul Harris), a timelessly wily and worldly master who is trying to keep control of the big ‘numbers’ game while getting hemmed in by the mafia on one side and election-year city government on the other. Other characters include the rivetingly slick dresser and (jive) talker Sweetman (Reginald Farmer, Car Wash, Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Momma Lottie (Frances E. Williams, later famous for informing Steve Martin of his ‘Special Purpose’ in The Jerk) and Sirene, a transvestite who takes ‘fierce’ to a whole new level. The exquisite soundtrack is composed by jazz pianist Phil Moore III, composer of such rare groove classics as “Right On!” and “Funky Canyon.” Two vocal tracks, sung by character actor Ernie Lee Banks (DuDirty in the film), are far out proto-rap.
Director Bill Brahme started out as an editor on some of the original Star Trek’s most psychedelic late episodes, then moved through biker flicks such as The Cycle Savages (with Bruce Dern) to the silver-screen cautionary tale Miss Melody Jones. Here, he delivers a work reminiscent of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life as if set Across 110th Street. One might postulate an argument about Farmer’s Sweetman as a parallel to Pasolini’s di Giotto and Harris’ Pasha to Franco Citti’s Ciapalletto in The Decameron (1971), but that would be going too far. Better to sit back, watch and definitely listen, and if you study well you’ll have some good lines to throw down at the holiday dinner gathering.
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