Sunday, February 15, 2015

Welcome Home Brother Charles (1975)

The second feature made by Jamaa Fanaka, who later found minor success with the sleazy boxing-behind-bars melodrama Penitentiary (1979) and its sequels, Welcome Home Brother Charles is an incoherent crime drama that has something to do with a black man getting railroaded by the corrupt legal system that’s controlled by racist white men. Although it feels like producer/writer/director Fanaka envisioned his movie as a shocking statement about race, perhaps along the lines of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Fanaka didn’t come close to emulating the political sophistication or the stylistic ferocity of Sweetback helmer Melvin Van Peebles. Instead, Fanaka created muddled scenes that feel both disassociated from each other and internally confusing, so it’s often hard to track what’s happening from moment to moment, let alone what’s happening in the overall story. Furthermore, Welcome Home Brother Charles is edited as badly as it’s shot, and the acting is almost wall-to-wall terrible, to the point where saying Welcome Home Brother Charles looks like a first-year student film would be an insult to first-year student films. In the broadest strokes, Charles Murray (Mario Monte) gets arrested on trumped-up charges, subjected to inhumane treatment by police officers (one of whom tries to castrate Charles with a knife), and used as a test subject by prison doctors who are conducting weird experiments. Once Charles leaves prison, he seeks revenge, which seems to largely comprise sleeping with the wives of his white oppressors. All of this drifts by in an ugly blur until the movie arrives at its single distinctive moment, a murder scene featuring one of the strangest weapons in movie history. As Charles stands over his next intended victim, sweat pouring down Charles’ pulsating forehead, a Graduate­-style through-the-legs shot reveals the appearance of Charles enormous phallus, which somehow moves like a tentacle across an entire room until it coils around the neck of the victim, choking the poor bastard to death. Too bad the title Shaft was already taken.

Welcome Home Brother Charles: SQUARE

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