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DVD Review: Black Joy (1977)

Black

I'd ever heard of Black Joy before the advance notice came through from Odeon, but I'm certainly glad I made the effort to secure a copy.

It's an obscure movie, but with some familiar faces - Norman Beaton and Floella Benjamin for example - featuring in this play-turned-film that endeavours to show the gritty streets of mid-70s Brixton through the eyes of someone alien to it, Guyanan immigrant Ben, played by Trevor Thomas.

He's headed to London with some money, a cardboard suitcase and a piece of paper with a family address on it. His welcome to London is an intimate body search by customs, followed by a mugging from a small child and the discovery that his address doesn't exist. 'Grim' is probably the word that sums it up.

Forced to sleep in a hostel, with one eye open for thieves, he walks the streets by day, meeting up with hustler Dave (Norman Beaton), who sees him as easy prey. Fleecing him for money (but not before some others have fleeced him for rent for a house that doesn't exit), Dave also shows Ben 'the ropes' - how to survive in the city. But Ben's got more about him than the pimp realises, getting himself a job, a girl and eventually, some status on the mean streets. The tables are eventually turned.

It's an interesting movie. Low budget, rough around the edges and not without a good amount of poetic licence you suspect. But it's not afraid to pull its punches either, showing organised crime, prostitution, street survival and pretty much anything else that's used to generate a living outside the law. Every man for himself, that's for sure.

It's also a great period piece, showing the squalor and derelict housing of the day, as well as the nightlife that takes you away from it. The likes of Johnny Nash, Billy Paul, Aretha Franklin, The Cimarons, Gladys Knight, The Drifters and The Three Degrees soundtrack the movie, with vintage Brit-soulies The Real Thing even appearing on stage in one of the club scenes.

If there's a downside, it's perhaps the plot running out of steam, with a fairly unbelievable ending of convenience thrown in for good measure. It builds nicely, but just lacks that killer punch for me.

But it's worth seeking out for fans of 70s British cinema nonetheless. At times amusing, other times depressing, it's certainly like nothing else I've seen from this particular era. For that reason alone, this is a cracking find from Odeon. Interesting doc on black actors in the '70s thrown in too, which adds more value to the £9.99 price tag.

Find out more about the DVD at the Amazon website

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