“Put your weight on it!” Tyrone Williams (Rudy Ray Moore) shouts at the start of 1979’s Disco Godfather. It’s a phrase that he regularly employs as he encourages everyone at the local disco to hit the dance floor and show off their moves. All Tyrone has to do to get people to dance is to shout out his catch phrase. He’s such a beloved figure in the community that most people just call him, “Godfather.”
The Godfather is the uncle of Bucky Williams (Julius Carry), a promising young basketball star who seems to have his entire future ahead of him. However, what the Godfather doesn’t know is that Bucky has fallen in with the wrong crowd and they’ve been pushing him to smoke …. ANGEL DUST! Bucky’s girlfriend tries to warn him that he’s been smoking too much of “the whack” but Bucky doesn’t heed her warning. Suddenly, Bucky is in the middle of the dance floor, freaking out as he imagines being attacked by zombie basketball players and a sword-wielding witch. He also sees the Disco Godfather, telling him to calm down, but suddenly the Godfather is transformed into a skeleton!
After Bucky is subdued and taken down to the local PCP recovery center (which is full of users who are all screaming, rolling around on the floor, and generally acting whacked out), the Godfather decides that he can no longer stand by while his community is victimized by the PCP dealers. With the help of Noel (Carol Speed), the Godfather starts a group called Angels Against Dust and starts a campaign to “attack the whack!” While the Godfather tracks down the dealers, Noel holds a rally where, at one point, she announces that everyone is going to have to come together and “whack the attack.”
The fact that this obviously flubbed line was included in the final film tells you much about what makes Disco Godfather such an interesting viewing experience. The film was shot very quickly and with very little money and, as such, second takes were a luxury that the film couldn’t afford. However, there’s also an undeniable charm to the film’s low-budget style. It’s amateurish but it’s amateurish in the most likable way possible. Even in the case of the “whack the attack” line, it’s hard not to appreciate that Carol Speed didn’t let that one flub stop her from giving the rest of her speech. By that same token, it’s also hard not appreciate that, later in the film, a never-before-seen character suddenly helps the Godfather fight off a bunch of pushers. This character was played by Moore’s karate instructor and his appearance is totally random and yet totally appropriate. In the world of Disco Godfather, the chaotic plotting is the point. The more random the film becomes, the more it suggests a universe ruled by chance and coincidence. The total lack of logic starts to make sense. Werner Herzog would probably love this film if he ever saw it.
Rudy Ray Moore, of course, was a famously raunchy comic who was best-known for playing Dolemite in three films. However, Disco Godfather finds him in a bit more of a dramatic mood, as he tours the local PCP ward and tells everyone he meets that they have to “attack the whack,” Compared to the Dolemite films, there’s considerably less sex and profanity to be found in Disco Godfather. There are several fight scenes and Rudy Ray Moore gets to show off his karate moves but the violence is never as over the top as it was in Dolemite. The problem, however, is that Rudy Ray Moore was a natural-born comic and, as a result, every line that he utters, regardless of how serious the topic, sounds like its building up to a punchline. Moore gets to do some dramatic acting at the end of the film, when the Godfather is himself force fed the whack and he starts to hallucinate various disturbing images. “That’s not right, mama!” the Godfather says at one point and indeed, the trip sequence is the strongest part of the film, a genuinely surreal trip into the subconscious of a man who just wanted to encourage people to dance.
Disco Godfather is one of those films that you just have to see. When Disco Godfather isn’t learning about PCP, he’s telling everyone to “put your weight on it” and, as a result, this film not only features a lot of anti-drug hysteria but it also features a lot of dancing. This is very much a film of its time. In one the film’s few deliberately funny moments, the album cover for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is seen covered in cocaine. Of course, the Disco Godfather doesn’t need cocaine to have a good time and he certainly doesn’t need the whack. He just needs the music and people willing to put their weight on it.
Disco Godfather was not a box office success when it was originally released, with Moore later saying that he made a mistake by toning down his persona for the film. Moore was probably correct but, seen today, Disco Godfather is an enchantingly berserk time capsule. Watch it and then be sure to watch Eddie Murphy play Rudy Ray Moore in the Netflix biopic, Dolemite Is My Name.
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