The Story: A directionless young preppie decides on a whim to buy a slum tenement and fix it up nice, as soon as he can get the deadbeat black tenants out. Instead, he gets mixed up in their lives and comes to realize how callous his own life and upbringing has been. It could have been treachly, but the execution is unsentimental, smart, and surreal.
Why It’s Great: After Easy Rider hit big, a fired-up group of anti-establishment moviemakers swept into power convinced that there were no more rules. They succeeded in creating a great American renaissance on the big screen, but they quickly discovered that they could only push a fickle public so far. There was one big rule that remained decidedly unbroken: Don’t Talk About Race! Certainly not in a morally complex, funny, profane, satirical way. Thankfully, Ashby didn’t know that yet. (And it helped immensely that the novelist and screenwriter were black.) I had remembered this movie as being set in Harlem, which would have made the attempts at gentrification somewhat quixotic, but I felt a twinge of pain when I realized that it was actually set in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which means that these residents were bound to lose utterly in the end. Even the white people I know aren’t white enough to stay in Park Slope anymore. Our last two friends who lived there knew the writing was on the wall when a fresh-from-the-oven doggy-treat bakery opened up across the street. The next month their rent was doubled and they, too, were forced out.
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