Vinegar Syndrome closes out their series of Rudy Ray Moore films with his fourth, and sadly final, major motion picture, Disco Godfather.
Moore's movie star shone bright in the mid to late '70s, but by the end of the decade he had fallen prey to a mix of his own ambition and a buch of bad advice which would leave him languishing outside the limelight for almost twenty years. 1979's Disco Godfather is a weird perversion of the Rudy Ray Moore formula that works relatively well in retrospect, but at the time was far too preachy and outdated to make a dent in the box office. It effectively ended his career as a movie star, and that's a tragedy because he spent many of his remaining years watching other build on the success he'd pioneered as an African American entrepreneur in the entertainment field.
In an attempt to capitalize on a wave of cautionary tales flooding the cinemas in the late '70s, Disco Godfather chose as its primary adversary, the relatively new menace of PCP (Angel Dust, or as it is hilariously known in the film, The Wack). PCP had been around for a while, but stories of junkies jumping out of windows and attempting to perform incredible feats of strength and fortitude had started flooding the papers. Moore's producers decided to attempt to make a story in he, a gaudily dressed disco MC/former police officer, would single-handedly "attack the wack" and put the PCP pushers and producers out of business, using the same slick kung fu and comedy methods that had gained him so many fans in his earlier films.
The problem this time around was that nobody wanted a Rudy Ray Moore message movie. They wanted to see him kick ass, bed down with beautiful ladies, and tell the dirtiest jokes possible. Disco Godfather - which I came to know in my teenage years as Avenging Disco Godfather from its VHS title - stripped almost all of what was recognizably Moore's persona away in an attempt to sanitize his appearance and make him a ghetto savior. The result is a muddled mess that doesn't objectively succeed at any of its aims.
Looking back on the film, it's easy to see Rudy's personal touches, and even easier to gain a visceral appreciation for this film as a solid entry into his wacko oeuvre. However, at the time, audiences just felt like they were being condescended to. Disco Godfather is packed from beginning to end with the signature touches of any Rudy Ray Moore film. You've got the random dance interludes, this time introducing roller-skating disco dancers. You've got style for miles, especially when the Disco Godfather is in the DJ booth at his club. You've even got some of Moore's trademarked exaggerated chop socky kung fu moves, often utilized to hilarious ends.
Even though the film was a flop, it's hard to hate a movie where a police dectective insists upon addressing Moore's outlandishly dressed DJ persona as "Godfather", even though he knows his name (it's Tucker Williams). Disco Godfather is also full of some of the most quotable dialogue from Moore's films, including the aforementioned "attack the wack", and Moore's oft repeated call to dance, "put yo' weight on it". It's great fun now that the Angel Dust menace has largely passed as a cultural phenomenon, but it's also easy to see that there's a sincerity to the film that is undermined at every turn by the ridiculous things happening on screen.
I love Disco Godfather. I loved it 20 years ago when I first saw it and I love it today. This funhouse mirror of a morality play is fascinating in its inability to successfully stick to a single tone. The shortcomings of the performers only make it more fun to watch as they struggle through some deathly serious dialogue with not much in the way of raw talent. Each of Moore's films have their own strengths and weaknesses, which makes them difficult to rank, but Disco Godfather is certainly not one to overlook.
Another bang-up job on this disc from Vinegar Syndrome, who bring Disco Godfather to Blu-ray in a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative. Each of the four releases from Vinegar Syndrome have looked good, but none as good as this one. I'm not sure if it's just because it's the newest of the quartet, but detail, color, clarity, and shadow detail all improve vastly over the old DVDs. The audio is similarly strong, though there is a notable boost in terms of the music - this is a disco film after all - which really sounds great on this new release.
VS provides another solid round of extras for Disco Godfather that build from their previous Moore films. Most notably there is I, Dolemite Part 4, the conclusion which not only looks at the critical and personal failure of Disco Godfather, but looks beyond that film to the long overdue recognition that Moore eventually got. Frequently referred to as the godfather of rap, Moore gets several pats on the back from people like NWA and other hip hop groups of the late '80s and early '90s in the documentary, which also follows his quest to make a final film, The Dolemite Experience.
Moore biographer Mark Jason Murray appears again on an audio commentary with director J Robert Wagoner, and Moore confidant and right hand man Cliff Roquemore. The track is great and Murray shows again that he really knows his stuff. Also fascinating to hear is some rare on-set audio. The commentary is chock full of fun facts and details that even the biggest Moore fan will be surprised to hear. It's great stuff all around. The extras finish off with a round of trailers for Moore's other films and a couple of strange alternate audio tracks created for foreign markets (French and German).
These four Blu-rays of Moore's major film projects are fascinating documents of a legendary performer who deserves rediscovery. All four are definitely worth picking up.