Guilty Pleasures: Dave Wahlman

Guilty Pleasures – Like a Proud Black Panther

When I was a junior in high school, the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA presented a Blaxploitation film series. I would cut school to go watch films like Coffy with Pam Grier, or Black Caesar with the great Fred Williamson. In retrospect, what kid does that? I mean, really, it makes me wonder to this day.

I love those films and every time I mention them, I often get puzzled looks, smartass comments, and all-purpose shit. I just don’t care. I love that genre of film. The music, the locations, the grainy 70s film – my god, I fucking love it. To this day there are films out there that I’ve read about or seen footage of on YouTube that aren’t available and I hate that.

I do own quite a few on DVD, but it’s become clear to me that they aren’t the kind of movie I can put on for company. People just don’t get them. It’s like they can’t understand why I would enjoy that type of film, or they just find the movies themselves completely absurd. (Although quite a few people understand my deep and dirty crush on Pam Grier in the 70s.)

There is something very punk rock about these films. In Black Caesar for example, many times during filming the crew wouldn’t get the proper permits to film and would just hit the streets in broad daylight. The result is impressive montages and sequences set to a pulsing soundtrack by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

There is also a ton of nudity and sex, which brings me back to Pam Grier. She was amazing back in the day. Her women in prison films like The Big Doll House and Black Mama White Mama give you a show. Pam did it all – she would get changed, run, shower, fight, etc. all in little to not clothes. Not to mention, she knew how to lock and load. When you see her with a 12 gauge pump in Coffy… she set the bar high.

Ever hear of a film called Across 110th Street? Filmed in Harlem in 1972, it was reportedly one of Elvis’s favorite films. It’s one hour and forty minutes of sheer nihilism. It’s racist, violent, and nasty. Not at all easy to watch, but I love it. It opens with a robbery of a Mafia policy bank and a lot of people die. There is a scene that takes place in the garage headquarters of the Black Mafia, with the Black Godfather telling the psychotic Italian Mafia enforcer just how it’s gonna be. Makes me smile every time. I once designed a show flyer for a friend’s band using the film’s poster – it was well received.

When I was 19, I worked in this indie record store. Picture High Fidelity, but with junkies. This old hippie jazz guy that worked there named Mark Eaton (Rest in Peace) said something to me once that I still think of, ten years later. I don’t remember the exact context, but it was basically how when it comes to books, music, movies, no matter what it was, to never feel guilty about it, to enjoy whatever it was with pride. I’ve never forgotten that advice, which might be why I had trouble picking a topic for this piece. I have no guilt over my “guilty pleasures.” I like what I like and that’s all there is to it.

Dave Wahlman