Melvin Van Peebles
|Melvin Van Peebles|
Van Peebles in December 2015
August 21, 1932
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Other names||Brer Soul, Block|
|Occupation||Actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, composer|
Melvin "Block" Van Peebles (born August 21, 1932) is an American actor, filmmaker, playwright, novelist and composer.
He is most famous for creating (and starring in) the acclaimed film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which heralded a new era of African-American focused films. He is the father of actor and director Mario Van Peebles.
Born Melvin Peebles, in Chicago, Illinois, to a black tailor, he joined the Air Force in 1954, thirteen days after graduating with a B.A. in literature from Ohio Wesleyan University, staying for three and a half years in the Force. He married the German actress and photographer, Maria Marx. They lived in Mexico for a brief period, where he painted portraits, before coming back to the United States, where he worked as a cable car gripman in San Francisco.
Melvin Van Peebles began writing about his experiences as a cable car gripman. His first book, The Big Heart, credited to Melvin Van, evolved from a small article and series of photographs
According to Van Peebles, a passenger suggested that he should become a filmmaker. Van Peebles shot his first short film, Pickup Men for Herrick in 1957, and made two more short films during the same period. About these films, Van Peebles says: "I thought they were features. Each one turned out to be eleven minutes long. I was trying to do features. I knew nothing." As he learned more about the filmmaking process, he found out that "I could make a feature for five hundred dollars. That was the cost of ninety minutes of film. I didn't know a thing about shooting a film sixteen to one or ten to one or none of that shit. Then I forgot you had to develop film. And I didn't know you needed a work print. All I can say is that after I did one thing he would say, 'Well, aren't you gonna put sound on it?' and I would go, 'Oh shit!' That's all I could say."
After Peebles completed his first short films, he took them with him to Hollywood to try to find work, but was unable to find anyone who wanted to hire him as a director. In New York City, he met a man who saw his films and wanted to screen them in France. In 1959 the family went to the Netherlands, where he worked for the Dutch National Theater. In the Netherlands, Peebles added the "Van" to his name. The marriage dissolved, his wife and children went back to America, and Peebles was invited to Paris by Henri Langlois, founder of the Cinémathèque Française, on the strength of his short films. He learned French, and was hired to translate Mad magazine into French. He began to write plays in French, utilizing the sprechgesang form of songwriting, where the lyrics were spoken over the music. This style carried over to Van Peebles' debut album, Brer Soul.
Van Peebles published four novels and one story collection in French and made another short film, Cinq cent balles (1965). Van Peebles made his first feature-length film, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (La Permission) (1968), which caught the attention of Hollywood producers who mistook him for a French auteur. Van Peebles's first Hollywood film was the 1970 Columbia Pictures comedy Watermelon Man, written by Herman Raucher. The movie tells the story of a casually racist white man who suddenly wakes up black and finds himself alienated from his friends, family and job. In 1970 Van Peebles was also to direct filming of the Powder Ridge Rock Festival, which was banned by court injunction.
After Watermelon Man, Van Peebles became determined to have complete control over his next production, which became the groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), privately funded with his own money, and in part by a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby. Van Peebles not only directed, scripted, and edited the film, but wrote the score and directed the marketing campaign. The film, which in the end grossed $10 million, was, among many others, acclaimed by the Black Panthers for its political resonance with the black struggle. His son Mario's 2003 film BAADASSSSS! tells the story behind the making of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song; father and son presented the film together as the Closing Night selection for Maryland Film Festival 2004.
In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of a documentary entitled How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It). Also in 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of the documentary Unstoppable, which also featured Ossie Davis and Gordon Parks in the same room. It was moderated by Warrington Hudlin.
In 2005, it was announced that Van Peebles would collaborate with Madlib for a proposed double album titled Brer Soul Meets Quasimoto. However, nothing has been said about this project since it was announced.
In 2008, Van Peebles completed the film Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha, which was the Closing Night selection for Maryland Film Festival 2008, and appeared on All My Children as Melvin Woods, the father of Samuel Woods, a character portrayed by his son, Mario.
In 2009 Van Peebles became involved with a project to adapt Sweet Sweetback into a musical. A preliminary version of this was staged at the Apollo on April 25–26, 2009. As well, he wrote and performed in a stage musical, Unmitigated Truth: Life, a Lavatory, Loves, and Ladies, which featured some of his previous songs as well as some new material.
In 2011, Van Peebles started doing shows in NYC with members of Burnt Sugar, under the name Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative. Van Peebles has said that the band is called Laxative because they "make shit happen". At least one of their shows have been listed as "must-sees" by a blogger from Time Out New York. In November, 2011, Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative performed his song "Love, that's America" at Zebulon Cafe Concert, two weeks after the venue showed the original video for this song involving Occupy Wall Street footage, which was uploaded to YouTube in October 2011.[unreliable source?]
On August 21, 2012, he distributed a new album, on vinyl only, called Nahh... Nahh Mofo. This album was distributed at his birthday celebration at Film Forum. On November 10, 2012, he released a video for the song Lilly Done The Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail to go with the album, which was announced on his Facebook page.[unreliable source?]
On May 5, 2013 he returned to the Film Forum for a screening of The Kid (1921) and was a judge at the Charlie Chaplin Dress-Alike Contest that was after the screening. He wore a bowler hat and baggy pants in honor of Chaplin.
In September 2013, Van Peebles made his public debut as a visual artist, as a part of a gallery featured called "eMerge 2.0: Melvin Van Peebles & Artists on the Cusp". It features "Ex-Voto Monochrome (A Ghetto Mother's Prayer)", one of many pieces of art he created to be on display in his home.
- (As "Melvin Van".) The Big Heart. San Francisco: Fearon, 1957. With photographs by Ruth Bernhard, a book about life on San Francisco's cable cars. "A cable car is a big heart with people for blood. The people pump on and off — if you think of it like that it is pretty simple" (p. 21).
- Un Ours pour le F.B.I. (1964); A Bear for the F.B.I. Trident, 1968.
- Un Américain en enfer (1965); The True American. Doubleday, 1976.
- Le Chinois du XIV (1966). (short stories)
- La Fête à Harlem (Harlem Party) (1967). (novel)
- La Permission, (1967)
- Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Lancer Books, New York 1971.
- Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death. Bantam, New York 1973.
- Don't Play Us Cheap: A Harlem Party. Bantam Books, New York 1973.
- Just an Old Sweet Song. Ballantine, New York 1976.
- Bold Money: A New Way to Play the Options Market. Warner Books, New York 1986, ISBN 0-446-51340-7 (nonfiction)
- Melvin and (his son) Mario Van Peebles: No Identity Crisis. A Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster, New York 1990
- Panther. Thunder's Mouth Press. 1995.
- Three Pickup Men for Herrick (short, 1957) also writer and composer
- Sunlight (short, 1957) also writer, composer and producer
- Cinq cent balles (short, 1963) also writer and composer
- The Story of a Three-Day Pass (also known as La Permission, 1967) also writer, from his novel La Permission, and composer
- Watermelon Man (1970) also composer
- Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) also actor, writer, composer, co-producer and editor
- Don't Play Us Cheap (1973) also writer, from his book Harlem Party and stage musical Don't Play Us Cheap, and composer
- Identity Crisis (1989) also actor, producer and editor
- Vroom Vroom Vroooom (segment from Tales of Erotica, also known as Erotic Tales, 1996) also writer, composer, producer and editor
- Gang in Blue (1996) co-director, actor and producer
- Le Conte du ventre plein (also known as Bellyful, 2000) also writer, composer and delegate producer
- Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha (2008)
- Lilly Done The Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail (2012) editor, performer
Other writing credits
- Slogan (Pierre Grimblat, 1969) screenwriter
- Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971 Broadway musical book and score)
- Just an Old Sweet Song (also known as Down Home, Robert Ellis Miller, 1976) made for television; screenwriter and theme song
- Greased Lightning (Michael Schultz, 1977) screenwriter
- The Sophisticated Gents (Harry Falk, 1981) made for television; actor, screenwriter, song "Greased Lightning" and producer
- The Day They Came to Arrest the Book (Gilbert Moses, 1987) made for television; screenwriter
- Panther (Mario Van Peebles, 1995) based on his novel Panther, screenwriter, actor and producer
- Melvin Van Peebles' Classified X (Mark Daniels, 1998) documentary; screenwriter, actor and executive producer)
- Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song: The Musical (2008) writer, singer
- Unmitigated Truth: Life, a Lavatory, Loves, and Ladies (2009) writer, performer
- Unstoppable (2005)
- How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (2005)
Other acting-only credits
- O.C. and Stiggs (Robert Altman, 1987) as Wino Bob
- Jaws: The Revenge (Joseph Sargent, 1987) as Mr Witherspoon
- Taking Care of Terrific (1987) television movie; as Hawk
- Sonny Spoon (1988) television series; as Mel Spoon
- Boomerang (1992) as Editor
- Posse (Mario Van Peebles, 1993) as Papa Joe
- Terminal Velocity (Deran Sarafian, 1994) as Noble
- Fist of the North Star (Asher, 1995) as Asher
- The Shining (Mick Garris, 1997) television movie; as Dick Halloran
- The Hebrew Hammer (Jonathan Kesselman, 2003) as Sweetback
- BlacKout (Jerry Lamothe, 2007) as George
- Redemption Road (Mario Van Peebles, 2010) as Elmo
- The Hostage (Dutch National Theatre Tour, writer, 1964)
- Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death (writer, 1972)
- Don't Play Us Cheap (writer, 1972)
- Out There by Your Lonesome (one-man play, 1973)
- Waltz of the Stork (actor, writer, 1982)
- Champeen (musical, writer, 1983)
- Brer Soul (1968)
- Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death (1970)
- As Serious As A Heart-Attack (1974)
- What the....You Mean I Can't Sing?! (1974)
- Ghetto Gothic (1995)
- Nahh... Nahh Mofo (2012)
- The Last Transmission (2014, with The Heliocentrics)
- Watermelon Man (1970)
- Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
- Ain't Supposed To Die A Natural Death (1972)
- Don't Play Us Cheap (1973)
- Van Peebles, Melvin; Van Peebles, Mario (1990). No Identity Crisis: A Father and Son's Own Story of Working Together. New York: Fireside. ISBN 0-671-67358-0. OCLC 21226104.
- Greasley, Philip A. (ed.) Dictionary of Midwestern Literature. Volume 1: The Authors. "Melvin Van Peebles", p. 505. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001.
- James, Darius (1995). That's Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury. ISBN 0-312-13192-5.
- View a KPIX-TV interview with Melvin Van Peebles from 1967, in which he discusses his early film career: https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/191476.
- Booker, James (1984-03-27). "James Booker's N.Y." The Washington Afro-American. p. 11. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
- Wylie, William H. (1986-03-11). "Movie director weighs his options". The Pittsburgh Press. p. D2. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
- "Madlib & Melvin Van Peebles – Brer Soul meets Lord Quas". Stonesthrow.com. 2005-10-01. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- Melvin Van Peebles interview from Suicide Girls
- Village Voice: The MVP of Black Cinema
- ApolloTheater.org Archived May 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- NYTheatre.com Archived June 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Unmitigated Truth: Life, a Lavatory, Loves, and Ladies". Nytheatre.com. 2009-06-22. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- ""NYC: Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative", Uptown, January 2011". Uptown Magazine. 2011-01-03. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "Melvin Van Peebles With Laxative, Zebulon Cafe Concert, May 12, 2011". Zebuloncafeconcert.com. 2011-05-12. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- TONY Music (2012-01-26). "Thursday's must-see concerts". TimeOut New York. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- ""The winter of our discontent" – a benefit for Occupy wallstreet. Special screening, Melvin Van Peebles: LOVE, THAT'S AMERICA !!!". Zebuloncafeconcert.com. 2011-11-08. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "Occupy Wall Street montage to the song "Love, That's America" by Melvin Van Peebles #OWS, YouTube". YouTube.com. 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "WFMU RADIO: Give The Drummer Some 10/05/12". Wfmu.org. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "The cat is out of..." Facebook. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "(official video) Melvin Van Peebles wid Laxative – Lilly Done The Zampoughi". YouTube. 2012-11-09. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "We have a new video..." Facebook. 2012-11-10. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "Methane Momma (2016)".
- "From The Vaults – Photos: Melvin Van Peebles Records For Heliocentrics". Now-Again Records Newsletter. 30 September 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
- Kesh, Jonathan. "5 Cool Sci-Fi Shorts From the 2018 Philip K. Dick Film Festival".
- "MVP @ 80 | #nothingtobegainedhere". Nothingtobegainedhere.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "Melvin Van Peebles Biography". Tvguide.com. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- Chaffin-Quiray, Garrett. "Great Directors: Melvin Van Peebles." Senses of Cinema Issue 25 (21 March 2003).
- Greasley, Philip A. The Authors. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Print. ISBN 0253336090, ISBN 9780253336095
- Melvin Van Peebles on IMDb
- Melvin Van Peebles on Charlie Rose
- Works by or about Melvin Van Peebles in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- "Melvin Van Peebles collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- Melvin Van Peebles's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Senses of Cinema: Great Directors Critical Database
- "Melvin Van Peebles interview" on the WGBH series, Say Brother
- Interview at SuicideGirls.com
- Interview with Melvin Van Peebles at the Red Bull Music Academy (2008)