Meeting Melvin Van Peebles

He’s streaming around this little reception like it was an informal cocktail party he threw himself. There’s only about 20 people in the room and he introduces himself to every one, even the semi-shy, dressed up girlfriends of legit guests who are just dying to meet him.

After Bo the organizer does his thing, welcoming the media and saying some very nice things about Mr. Van Peebles, the man himself takes center stage and graciously offers up a joke for our time.

“There’s a man who tells a Freudian slip when he’s having dinner with his mother. . .He meant to ask her to pass the butter but instead he says, “You really messed up my life’.” Melvin says the last bit sheepishly, and hangs his head. It’s not that funny written down, but it’s hilarious when he tells it and the room laughs uproariously. Some a little too hard, some letting him know that the brothers are on his wavelength even if they have got their media passes now.

When Bo explains that this group had seats reserved for them, and would have to enter the screening from a special backway, Melvin is up to the shit, playing it it out for every moment of fun that occurs to him. As with Yiddish humor, much of his comes with a bittersweet edge. You laugh now because you used to cry about it, or because you want to have a time when you can look back and say you used to cry about it.

I walk over to the pile of sodas to pour myself a ginger ale, and Melvin is standing there by himself. I am a trifle surpried at the comfortable alone-ness that he emanates throughout the evening, quite satisfied without the entourage that usually comes with his territory and circumstances. Trying to think of something to say, his feet caught my eye:

“I really dig your shoes” I said staring down at the spat-like, wing tips covering his red socks, “where did you get them?”

A story commenced:

“I saw these shoes on Hollywood Boulevard, and said to myself Hmm! (an expression of approval comes over his face) Then I saw that the price tag was $340 and I thought shit that’s a lot of money for a pair of shoes but”. . . he trails off, giving the impression that he is a man of some impulse, and if he liked ’em he was gonna have ’em.

“But then I looked again and they were $34” another pause “Then I looked again and they were 2 pair for $34, so I bought a load of ’em.”

“Do you like shoes? Where are they on the scale of things that you love?” I ask, half expecting a commentary on the ecstasies of consumerism.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. What are the four things at the top of the list of the things that you love?” I am still too uncertain to call him by his first name, though I want to, and he wouldn’t mind.

We’re about the same height (5′ 7″) so he doen’t have to crane his neck to look me straight in the eye. His immediate response is “Pussy, pussy, pussy.”

“That’s only 3, what’s number 4?”

“More pussy.”

“Shoes aren’t on the list?”

“Shoes! shit they’re way the hell down there, maybe 34”

“Well, at least you’re honest. Where’s honesty?”

He stares at me incredulously “Honesty doesn’t even make the list. Would you like some ice?”

I say no thanks but he puts some in my glass anyway and tops it off with ginger ale.

“You know if I’d really thought about it, about honesty, I wouldn’t have done the things I did. I don’t like to think too much.”

As Peter and I are exiting the reception half an hour later, Melvin taps me on the shoulder and says, “Number 5: cinematography”

I smile and ask him if he wants to reconsider honesty, but he can’t believe I would ask him again, like I didn’t take him seriously the first time. (Fun and seriousness are not incompatable for this man)

“I told you, honesty does’t even come near it, not on the list not anywhere, it doesn’t matter”

A passerby chimed in, “It’s like, what’s love got to do with it.”

Melvin agrees, “Exactly.”

So everyone at the reception files out and walks into the auditorium to watch his cinematic magnum opus: Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssssss Song. Hundereds of us first hear a few words from Melvin. He gets up to the microphone and claims his place: “Somebody said that property is 9/10 of the law, and surviving is 10/10, so I’m up here now, and you can forget it.”

This man was still appreciative that all of these people wanted to see his work, stuff he did 20 years ago, that was light years ahead of its time. He let us know, with real honesty, that he thought that this was a terrific film and in an aside said he’d be lying if it didn’t mean anything to him because it was 12 years of his life.

He told the story of making STORY OF A 3 DAY PASS –peppered with sonourous anecdotes, and the sweetly measured timing of a true storyteller. In order to get the crew he needed to make a film with so many black actors in it, and not get into serious shit with the union people, he made use of a union exemption for pornographic filmmakers. He made sure, he candidly notifies us, that he shot plenty of sex scenes the first few weeks, and when the powers-that-be came into view the rushes, they were assured that this film was about “just a bunch of crazy niggers”, and then left Melvin well enough alone.

Afterwards Peter and I went downstairs to meet Lisa, and who should be in the back-office, alone again, but Melvin.

I extended my hand and said, “I don’t know what you can do with numbers one through four, but I sure like what you did with number 5.” Melvin smiles. Turns out he doesn’t have much of an entourage waiting, so we all went to a hotel for a drink.

First he talked to the two French women who had waited to speak with him, and were rather excited to address him in his own language.

At the hotel he did a bit of his new one man show for us, and the beginning of his one act version of a serious Hamlet. He lounged back, looking at the glass elevators and hotel-lit lobby and smiled: “this is nice. . .nice place, drinks, scintillating conversation.” Not in an excited way, but appreciating a moment for what it was, though he’s had many more exciting, with people more famous and powerful.

He talked about being worn down by producers, as an artist, and advisied Peter; “They tell you they really love your work, and they get you into it and then its a process of erosion. . .then they come in at the 15th round when you’re exhausted and say BOOM that’s it. Don’t let em get you in the 15th round, man.”

He spoke well of his son Mario’s directing debut at the Sundance Festival this past year.

Daughter Megan now sells advertising at a high-tech magazine. Max?

Was there anyone in his family who was a great storyteller, a grandparent? Are you kidding, all I ever heard was shut-up Melvin.”

With the first real money he made from film, he went and got himself a tatoo. A dotted blue line around his neck with the words “LYNCH HERE” “So I wouldn’t forget,” he said. “All of these conservative black guys said ‘oh, when you make it you’re going to get all mealymouthed and uptight, but I haven’t. ‘ No indeed.

He later confessed that he had another tatoo, this one “on my butt, it says ——– . Which means ‘If you can, motherfucker’ in a language of middle Africa.”

Re: his kids and the filming –Megan would get excited ’cause she could go out for a BLT and then we did the stuff with the hat and the bow tie. (sex with Big Sadie, motorcycle woman)

What else do I remember about my night with Melvin? A few questions, and a few responses…

“Was that you in the film?”

“Oh, someone else who doesn’t recognize me with my clothes on”

“Were the sex scenes real?”

“I got the clap from doing this film, and that’s the truth… I got a venereal disease and I applied for Workman’s Comp and got it.”

He knew what a mohel is. He used the word minyan casually in conversation.

Mostly I remember tha myy night with Melvin was a night to remember.

230 Replies to “Meeting Melvin Van Peebles”

  1. Thank you a lot for providing individuals with an extremely nice opportunity to discover important secrets from this web site. It is usually so sweet plus full of a great time for me personally and my office co-workers to visit the blog really 3 times in 7 days to read through the latest issues you will have. And definitely, I am actually impressed with the surprising information you give. Some two tips in this posting are essentially the most efficient I have ever had.

  2. Needed to put you this very little note to say thanks a lot as before considering the wonderful information you’ve contributed above. It has been simply pretty generous of people like you to supply without restraint all that a few individuals would’ve advertised for an e book in making some money on their own, certainly since you might have done it if you ever considered necessary. The thoughts also served to provide a easy way to be aware that many people have the identical zeal much like my personal own to see whole lot more with reference to this issue. I am sure there are several more pleasant opportunities in the future for people who browse through your blog.

  3. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but
    I find this matter to be really something that I think I would never understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.
    I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the
    hang of it!

  4. Wonderful blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused ..
    Any recommendations? Thank you!

  5. I and also my pals happened to be checking the excellent solutions found on your web page and then at once came up with an awful feeling I had not thanked the website owner for those secrets. All of the boys had been for this reason thrilled to learn all of them and have in effect certainly been making the most of those things. Appreciate your truly being well considerate and for considering variety of superb subject matter millions of individuals are really desperate to know about. Our honest regret for not saying thanks to you sooner.

  6. I simply wanted to post a small note to appreciate you for some of the great facts you are giving here. My rather long internet research has at the end of the day been compensated with brilliant insight to write about with my great friends. I ‘d mention that many of us site visitors actually are really blessed to exist in a good site with very many wonderful individuals with good solutions. I feel pretty fortunate to have seen your weblog and look forward to many more entertaining times reading here. Thanks once again for all the details.

  7. I actually wanted to write a simple word so as to express gratitude to you for all of the great points you are showing on this site. My time consuming internet look up has finally been compensated with reliable information to write about with my classmates and friends. I ‘d mention that many of us website visitors are unequivocally endowed to exist in a very good place with so many awesome professionals with beneficial hints. I feel very much privileged to have encountered the web page and look forward to plenty of more pleasurable times reading here. Thanks a lot once again for everything.

  8. I would like to show my appreciation for your generosity in support of folks who actually need help with your idea. Your very own commitment to passing the message across had become exceptionally good and have without exception enabled some individuals just like me to arrive at their ambitions. The insightful instruction entails much to me and even further to my colleagues. Thanks a lot; from all of us.

  9. I precisely needed to thank you so much once again. I am not sure what I could possibly have gone through without the entire tactics documented by you relating to that area of interest. It previously was an absolute fearsome problem for me personally, but discovering the expert approach you dealt with that took me to leap for contentment. I am just happy for the help and then have high hopes you comprehend what a great job you are always putting in teaching many people through your web blog. I am certain you haven’t come across all of us.

  10. I precisely desired to say thanks yet again. I am not sure the things I would’ve achieved without the advice contributed by you about such field. It actually was the frightening problem in my position, but encountering the very specialized form you processed it forced me to leap for joy. I’m just happier for the information and even believe you really know what an amazing job you are carrying out instructing the rest with the aid of a site. Most likely you’ve never got to know all of us.

  11. My spouse and i have been now thankful that Jordan could round up his investigation with the precious recommendations he discovered while using the weblog. It’s not at all simplistic just to happen to be giving away thoughts which usually other folks might have been making money from. We really figure out we’ve got the website owner to be grateful to because of that. The specific explanations you made, the easy web site menu, the relationships your site assist to engender – it’s many fantastic, and it is leading our son in addition to our family consider that the theme is entertaining, which is certainly quite pressing. Many thanks for all the pieces!

  12. I am glad for writing to make you be aware of of the useful encounter my cousin’s daughter undergone studying your web site. She realized a wide variety of things, not to mention what it is like to have an ideal teaching style to get men and women without difficulty learn some problematic topics. You undoubtedly exceeded visitors’ expected results. Many thanks for imparting these beneficial, trusted, revealing and in addition unique thoughts on that topic to Janet.

  13. A lot of thanks for each of your labor on this website. My niece loves doing research and it is obvious why. Most of us learn all of the dynamic manner you offer very useful thoughts via the blog and in addition attract contribution from visitors on this point and our own princess is starting to learn so much. Have fun with the rest of the new year. You’re the one conducting a fantastic job.

  14. I am just writing to make you be aware of of the extraordinary discovery my friend’s daughter experienced browsing your web site. She came to understand numerous details, which include what it’s like to have an amazing helping spirit to have certain people with ease thoroughly grasp various very confusing issues. You truly surpassed our expected results. Thank you for showing those precious, dependable, informative and easy tips about this topic to Jane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *