"Put your weight on it, put your weight on it, put your weight on it!"
With the release of Dolemite Is My Name, the Netflix biopic about comedian Rudy Ray Moore's origins, what better time than now to discuss the nadir (meaning funnest part) of his career, Disco Godfather? If Moore's Dolemite character and 1975 eponymous film would help solidify many of the elements of the blaxploitation cycle (i.e., low budget, black-oriented stories about urban, criminal anti-heroes), then 1979's Disco Godfather is the genre's bat-shit coda, a sincere message film wrapped in the deranged trappings of its star's indulgences.
And if you're thinking what I'm thinking, then yes, blaxploitation was no longer a thing by 1979. But those fineries of convention never stood in the way for a guy like Rudy Ray Moore. Say what you will about the man, but the dude had a vision and style, and he left us an uncompromising oeuvre of ridiculousness to parse, study, and...dance to.
"Attack the Wack!"
The story begins (where else?) at the disco. A neighborhood basketball star who is going pro takes some PCP (which the film curiously dubs "Wack"). The drug sends him into a permanent psychotic state, and he is institutionalized at a clinic specializing in wack-related mishaps. Given the minuscule budget, the hallucination scenes are actually quite terrifying. Undoubtedly, if they would have shown Disco Godfather to us in D.A.R.E. class, I probably wouldn't have become the drug hound I am.
The disco where this all goes down is owned by the Disco Godfather himself, Tucker Williams (Moore), a retired cop (though still working part-time when he feels like it) who MCs nightly. Williams vows to take on the criminal element peddling the wack in his neighborhood, and the "story" unfolds from there.
Disco Godfather is a heartfelt film. As misguided as it may seem at times, it's a film conceived through the anxieties of those facing the drug problems ravishing African American communities. I honestly couldn't tell you for sure (because I laugh every time he is on screen), but Moore does appear to be 100% sincere in his performance and purpose; he is a black super hero ridding his community of drugs. Unfortunately, audiences at the time weren't in the mood for a preachy Rudy Ray Moore, and the film tanked, bringing his career down with it.
Compared to other Moore outings, the film is relatively subdued. However, with Moore seemingly playing it straight, the results are even more hilarious. Also, the use of relatively above is key, because Disco Godfather is still an insane movie that delivers all the goods you've come to expect in a Moore film: inept action, random karate, what-the-fuck-am-I-hearing dialogue, and an ostentatious sense of style.
And the Vinegar Syndrome blu-ray is fantastic. I don't know what Faustian deal those guys made with Petey Wheatstraw, but it's a godsend they got their hands on the Moore catalog, as it's a perfect fit for them. There is an excellent commentary track by Moore's biographer, Mark Jason Murray, that's worth the price of the disc alone.
Disco Godfather is Rudy Ray Moore's unsung classic. You've got to be completely wacked out on that shit if you love his other films and not this one. Highly recommended.