DISCO GODFATHER (1979) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: J. Robert Wagoner
Vinegar Syndrome

Rudy Ray Moore closes out the disco era and ruins his career with the "message film" DISCO GODFATHER, restored on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.

When his NBA hopeful nephew Bucky (Julius J. Carry III, THE LAST DRAGON) falls victim to the Angel Dust epidemic, former cop-turned-disco DJ Tucker (Moore) – the aforementioned "Disco Godfather" – becomes an activist by day with "Angels Against Dust" and dedicated clinic doctor Mathis (Jerry Jones, DOLEMITE) while taking takes more decisive steps by night to "attack the wack" with the help of his former boss Lieutenant Frank Hayes (Frank Finn) and the grudging assistance of former professional rival Killroy. When roughing up sellers and swaying the disco crowd to his cause puts a dent in the pocket of the Angel Dust operation's kingpin Stinger Ray (Hawthorne James, THE COLOR PURPLE) – a local businessman of note who has recently purchased a basketball team he plans to stock with good players who failed to make the major leagues – he orders a hit on Tucker. When Tucker proves more intelligent and resourceful than anticipated, egomaniac Stinger would rather take him on personally in a battle of wills and wits. After several attempted busts turn up nothing, Tucker begins to suspect a leak within the department. Tucker catches up with Stinger but finds himself confronting his own personal demons in an Angel Dust-fueled haze.

A PG-rated attempt to commercialize and gentrify Moore's edgy comic persona, the very quirks that make DISCO GODFATHER entertaining and often downright hilarious to contemporary audiences appeared to have been a turn-off to viewers at the time. Released in the waning days of the disco craze and emphasizing poorly-aced drama with unsubtly preachy (but not unjustified) social commentary, the film lacks the immediate grindhouse pleasures of cartoonish violence, nudity, or even Moore's foul mouthed routines. ABBY's Carol Speed has little to do as Tucker's assistant (imagine ABBY VS THE DISCO GODFATHER). There is still much to be savored thanks to a hysterical third act that adds a cowboy hitman (stuntman John Casino, RUNAWAY TRAIN), more clumsily-filmed martial arts (staged and performed by THE HUMAN TORNADO's Howard Jackson), and Tucker's own drug-dazed battle with Stinger as well as his own personal demons – including a literal samurai sword-wielding PCP Angel of Death (Pucci Jhones) – intercut with an attempted exorcism performed by Bishop Pat Patterson on of one of Mathis' patients, the catatonic daughter of Mrs. Edwards (Moore regular and fellow comedian Lady Reed), hand-drawn psychedelic animation, and an ambiguously downbeat freeze-frame ending. While Moore regular Jimmy Lynch worked on the production design, wardrobe, and special effects for THE HUMAN TORNADO and PETEY WHEATSTRAW, art direction and effects are credited here to Robert A. Burns (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE). Despite the efforts of Nicholas Joseph Von Sternberg (TOURIST TRAP) and Dean Cundey (HALLOWEEN) among others in the earlier Moore films, DISCO GODFATHER is the best-looking of Moore's films thanks to the slick work of Arledge "Ace" Armenaki (DEATH SPA) in his debut as a DP (future TWIN PEAKS DP Frank Byers served here as gaffer) with glitzy, star-filtered disco sequences, more professional coverage of dialogue and expository scenes, and slicker exterior scenes that look less like the usual guerilla shooting. IMDb lists Keith David (THEY LIVE) uncredited among the disco patrons.

Sparsely released by Transvue in 1979 and then on video in 1986 by Active Home Video (as AVENGING DISCO GODFATHER) and in 1999 by Xenon on VHS and DVD, DISCO GODFATHER comes to Blu-ray/DVD combo in a new 2K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen image bursts forth with color from the MPAA PG logo onwards, and revealing after the star-filtered credits a sharp image and crisp detail with a minimum of in-camera damage. The mono track has been rendered in a clean, bold DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that will have you up off your feet putting your weight on the dance floor. Optional French and German dubs are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and English SDH subtitles are also included.

Extras commence with another commentary by Rudy Ray Moore biographer Mark Jason Murray with archival audio interview excerpts from Moore, writer/director J. Robert Wagoner (BLACK ROOTS), co-writer Cliff Roquemore (THE HUMAN TORNADO), and rare on-set audio. Murray provides some context on the disco craze and the Angel Dust epidemic, as well as pontificating on the failure of the film which marked the end of the era that Moore owned (starting in 1970 with the release of his successful comedy album EAT OUT MORE OFTEN). He reveals what he has learned about the life of director Wagoner, including his earlier documentary and TV credits, and the director himself speaks by way of an audio interview from the nineties conducted by a film fan who discovered that his neighbor was the director of DISCO GODFATHER. Wagoner counters the opinions of other cast and crew members about his abilities by charging that his documentary realist approach clashed with the more traditional ways in which they were accustomed to filming. He also discusses his original concept for his film about the Angel Dust epidemic in which the clinic doctor character was the main character and more of a Clint Eastwood ass-kicker. Approximately twenty-four minutes of on-set recorded audio is included – including blown line readings, off-camera discussion, along with Moore reciting his narration for the trailer – followed by Moore's and Wagoner's recorded negative reactions to the film and Murray quoting some of the others' reactions including that of Hawthorne James who only learned that the film had been released theatrically by chance. Throughout Murray doses a good job of sifting through differing accounts but the general tone of the track is downbeat.

"I, Dolemite Part IV" featurette (25:14) features the contributions of Murray, Moore (in archival video), Armenaki, assistant camera Ron Raschke (THE HOWLING), and Lynch, and is a touching farewell to Moore legacy. The first half of the featurette covers the making of the film with Moore the film – initiated by his producing partner Theodore Toney – ruined his career, noting its lack of subtlety and his preference for comedy and escapism. Murray discusses how J. Robert Wagoner's initial script was too expansive for the budget and that Roquemore not only rewrote the script but took the initiative to enhance its production value by recruiting the dancing extras, finding locations, and the like (in the commentary, Wagoner says the only reason why Roquemore did not direct it himself despite wanting to was because Moore was a man of his word). Armenaki and Raschke not only discuss working with Moore but also Wagoner's difficulty while Lynch cops to doubling for Moore in the dancing scenes due to his lack of rhythm. Murray touches upon the unsuccessful release of the film and most touchingly on Moore's inability to adapt himself to the eighties. He is also frank in his assessment of Moore ineptitude with handling his business affairs. Although Moore supported himself with shows throughout the eighties, he was under the radar as a celebrity until 2 Live Crew sampled his albums in their rap albums and he emerged once again into pop culture. His films gained a new audience via Xenon's VHS releases but the Xenon-produced starring vehicle THE DOLEMITE EXPLOSION (2002) was not the hoped-for cult success. The featurette closes with his fading from the public eye and eventual passing on. The half-hour soundtrack option (35:01) is comprised of only four very long tracks. A still gallery (2:18) is also included along with the film's theatrical trailer (3:30) and trailers for DOLEMITE and THE HUMAN TORNADO. (Eric Cotenas)