Rudy Ray Moore: The original king of blaxploitation movies
When I was in high school, one of my pals was considered the coolest kid in our circle, largely because he had a cache of Redd Foxx and Rudy Ray Moore party records. If you've never heard these comedy records -- recorded "live," usually in front of a group of friends at someone's house -- by two of the most influential black comics of their time, they're a revelation. And not just because they're deliriously dirty, full of all sorts of inspired slurs, insults and cuss words so foul that they could peel the paint off a car.
As teenagers, we were transfixed by the sheer raunchiness of it all, as if we'd been allowed to imagine what it might be like to sit next to a great piano player in a whorehouse. In his later years, Foxx ended up crossing over to polite white society with his own TV show, "Sanford and Son." Moore remained a cult figure, always on the fringes, though hugely influential in the African American artistic community, until his death last year at 81.
Moore made a few movies along the way, two of which are playing tonight at 7:30 pm, presented by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater. The tribute was put together by Larry Karaszewski, the screenwriter (with Scott Alexander) behind such oddball originals as "Ed Wood," "The People vs. Larry Flynt" and "Man on the Moon," a biopic about the late Andy Kaufman.
Karaszewski and Alexander are preparing to write and direct "Big Eyes," which would star Kate Hudson as painter Margaret Keane, the creator of the garish drawings of wide-eyed women and children, who allowed her husband, Walter, to take all the credit for the paintings until the couple had a messy divorce.
I asked Larry to explain why he fell in love with Moore's work, as well as why Moore was such a distinctive figure for so many rappers and filmmakers. He also has assembled a great group of Moore collaborators and admirers for tonight's screening. Here's what Larry had to say:
Rudy Ray Moore was larger than life. He carried himself onscreen as if he was the biggest star of all time. There are many more famous iconographic movies of the blaxploitation era -- such as “Shaft” or “Superfly” -- but none have aged as well as Rudy’s "Dolemite" films.
He started out as a singer and comic on the 1960s chitlin circuit. His routines became famous for their bravado and X-rated raunch. He created an alter ego named Dolemite and told outrageous tales in rhyme: “Dolemite is my name and f**king up motherf**kers is my game!” Rudy was truly the first rap star. He began making what was then called “party records,” and when they sold well, ventured into filmmaking.
The movies are low-budget and amateurish, but by sheer force of personality, Rudy makes them shine. His genius was adding an extreme comic touch to the black action genre. Even though Rudy was horribly out of shape, Dolemite could beat up any man, bed any woman, and shoot whitey in the ass. The costumes and the attitude pushed every boundary of taste.
Rudy became a huge influence on the next generation of comics (Robin Harris), rappers (Snoop Dogg) and filmmakers (Reggie Hudlin). A whole generation of young people discovered his work on home video. I was fortunate enough to meet Rudy shortly before he died. Scott Alexander and I spent an afternoon with him discussing the possibility of a film about his life. I always say never meet your heroes because they always disappoint. But Rudy did not let us down … he was Dolemite. His giant personality took over the room.
I know that Rudy sometimes felt that he did not get enough credit for what he did. Tonight the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater aims to rectify that. We are showing two of his best films, the original “Dolemite” (1975) and the completely insane “Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son In Law” (1977). And we’ve assembled a panel split between people who worked with Rudy and those that were influenced by him.
The old school: Jerry Jones (screenwriter and costar of “Dolemite”), Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (cinematographer of both films) and Jack Tucker (editor of “Petey”).
New school: Director/producer Reginald Hudlin (“House Party,” “The Ladies Man”), plus the stars, writer, and director of the new blaxplotation tribute film “Black Dynamite” -- Michael Jai White, Byron Minns and Scott Sanders. The festivities start at 7:30 p.m. and it should be fun.
As Rudy would say: "If you crave satisfaction, this is the place to find that action!"
Photo of Rudy Ray Moore in "Dolemite" from National Screen Service Corp.