5.08.2011

Three Honkies: Abar (Packard, 1977)

Wow, this one's a doozy. "Abar" AKA "Abar: Black Superman" AKA "Abar, the First Black Superman" AKA" In Your Face" (a title under which the film inexplicably saw new cover art featuring an anonymous, magnum-wielding fatty disproportionately positioned behind a lazily sassy-looking black betty) comes to us from 1977, after blaxploitation's prime, as a home brew project by some fellow called Frank Packard, though that name may well be a consolidating invention (a la "The Final Comedown" director Oscar Williams' renaming to "Frank Arthur Wilson" upon that film's questionable re-release). A well-to-do black doctor (who frequently hears Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in his head when he's alone) moves his family to an upper echelon white neighborhood only to meet with bigoted hatred blazing as strong as a hundred swastika-shaped suns and eventual protests ranging from goose-stepping sign wavers to beatings courtesy "Look Away, Dixieland"-whistling upstarts. Not a single white person comes close to liberality. The outward racism recalls a pre-Civil Rights era (even still appearing extreme), winding up odd and unintentionally humorous in its late '70s setting added to hilariously uninspired performances. Much of your everyday dialogue comes across just fine, but the plentitudes of shock and anger are delivered with enthusiasm so lacking it makes Peter Criss' lackadaisical line readings in "Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park" look, well, at least Golden Globe-worthy.

I don't make practice of divulging spoilers in my write-ups, but I feel to convey the sheer nuttiness of "Abar" one does not simply walk into its mindset. Its black power is guarded by more than just MLK sound bites. There is a communal infection that does not sleep, and "the Man" is ever watchful. The ghetto is a barren wasteland riddled with pushers and condemnation and despair. See, Abar is a motivational speaker and leader of a vigilante justice squad, his ideals nestled somewhere twixt MLK and Malcolm X, and when he catches wind of his cross-town soul brother's plight he trades his protection services for the opportunity to become more powerful via a secret experiment the doctor has been needing a strong test subject for. No supermanning occurs until around the hour-and-fifteen mark at which point less than half an hour remains, but once that mark passes Abar's new psychokinetic powers essentially unleash a wave of biblical plagues on the neighborhood in concern. Whiteys are terrorized by rats and snakes, spaghetti becomes a plate of worms when negativity toward blacks is uttered and if anyone tries to run, hurricane-force winds sweep them away. This ending is screwier than the "Oh Happy Day" finale to "The Thing With Two Heads" and preaches that the answer is not equality through morality but the strange karmic consequence of eating worms for being a racist. The punishments are not relevant to the transgressions. Then, as a final footnote, out of what I can't stress enough as being absolutely nowhere, the next-door neighbor who started all the ruckus confesses she's actually ashamedly black and only living with whites because she has sickle-cell anemia.

For all the filler "Abar" takes us through - would-be family relative subplots, randomly birthed and loose-ended "Frankenstein" subtext and an Old West dream sequence depicting Abar as a drifter unfortunately named "Deadwood Dick" - it does present an interesting idea or two. As viewers, of course we are led to want the doctor's neighbors to finally accept him and his family. To give in to the violent ignorance and leave would be to admit defeat, thereby falling to the white man's enforced superiority. We do come to question the doctor's stubbornness, however, as the indiscretions grimly worsen yet he remains coldly refusing to budge. Then, what of Abar's brothers and sisters in the ghetto? The doctor's money isn't doing them any good on the white side of town. If the doctor went back to what is, according to his new enemies, where he belongs, he could stand to help that community immensely. The doctor contests this rather weakly by accusing Abar of being "worse than the black bourgeois escapees", "a scavenger living off the corruption of [his] own kind" so prideful in his position as community messiah that if the ghetto were cleaned up he might be "the first one to soil its fragrance to keep [himself] up on that pedestal of 'look at me'". Desperate though the declaration may be, it does foretell Abar's delusions of divinity upon receiving his powers.

Now, let it be known that at no point during "Abar" was I bored, or anything but enthralled, for that matter. Yes, ostensibly "Abar" is a bad film, but it is one of the best bad films I've seen.

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