Films of the 00s: Bamboozled
"Four score and seven years ago... they was kickin' our black asses!" So begins one of Honeycutt's embarrassing but inspired comic riffs as the host of Man-Tan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, the ghastly revue at the center of Bamboozled's estimable storm. I wish that my returning buddy Tim and I had found room to pay more tribute to how funny Bamboozled can be when it wants to be, how the Man-Tan show actually operates, and what tertiary figures like Honeycutt or his near-doppelganger, the protagonist's wreck of a father, bring to the proceedings. But there's only so long that we can bend your ear, and almost everything in the dizzying, maddening, electrifying Bamboozled invites heaps of conflicted commentary. I tried my best in my initial review, written nine years ago in graduate school, but I got more out of my new confab with Tim. We start with our memories of seeing the film for the first time:
TR: "Bamboozled...was one of the first films I reviewed for the Telegraph where I really wanted a lot more space. It was released in the UK in April 2001, a few months after I started the job, and I remember coming out of the screening buzzing, and with my thoughts pulling in all sorts of different directions. Because the movie already had the whiff of commercial pariah about it, this wasn't to be a lead review, and I knew I had a tough job on my hands communicating how this fascinating mess was actually to be recommended in fewer than 300 words: the flaws were manifest, the underlying intelligence, scalding and confrontational as it is, needed some careful argument to disinter...."
ND: "As far as I'm concerned, in the year 2000, I saw Bamboozled in a racially segregated, semi-concealed theater, and it only showed once per night, and I was the only patron there. Hence my sharp and bitter sense, during that first screening, that Lee was shooting grenades at vicious, longstanding American problems that powerfully persist, albeit under different guises...."
From there, we have plenty to say about the film's ceaseless self-divisions, the wavering targets and cogencies of its satire, the parts that work best, the parts that don't work at all, what do with the ending, and what is finally most important to emphasize about such a confoundingly sloppy-smart film. Again, there are entire shelves, whole aisles of cans of worms that we couldn't open. But the conversation isn't over yet! - as always, we hope you'll enjoy the whole piece and share your thoughts in the Comments field.
(By the way, as any Chicagoan who keeps track of how AMC plays the downtown 600 Michigan Ave complex against the nearby and much more deluxe Rivers East multiplex can tell you, the practices of quietly segregated booking are not gone, and not absent even in major cities. Look, too, at this article, linked yesterday by Nathaniel, about current distribution problems facing the Sophie Okonedo vehicle Skin in the UK and certainly, though the article doesn't reach this far, in the US.)
Earlier in this series: Mission to Mars, The Beach (with Tim), Dôlè, La Captive, American Psycho, and Wonder Boys