Friday, October 15, 2010

Trick Baby

Last night I watched the 1972 film Trick Baby from director Larry Yust. The film is set in Philadelphia and focuses on two main characters. Blue Howard played by Mel Stewart and White Folks played by Kiel Martin. Martin's character ( who is only referred to as "Folks" in the film ) is the child of a black mother and white father. Despite his mixed heritage, Folks looks totally white and this is the key plot device that is exploited in the film. Folks and Blue are con-men and their cons are impressive bits of deceit. You get the feeling, while watching the movie, that they have kept their sights on smaller fish for the most part. A confluence of events, though, conspire to bring these two small-time hustlers into contact with a very dangerous group of individuals including corrupt cops and members of the mob. The plot is well laid-out and developed but it is fairly cut and dried. Director Yust manages to shoe-horn a good bit of character development into the proceedings and this is what really raises Trick Baby above other films of its ilk. Blue thinks of Folks as a black man, and it seems that Folks also feels the same. All the people around them though, both white and black, don't trust Folks and make no bones about saying so. Folks is a character who uses his apparent whiteness as a key component of the cons that he and Blue pull. It is an ultimate disguise and it raises questions of what really constitutes "race". At certain key moments we are shown contrasting views of white and black culture and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions. We will see footage of a fancy dinner party attended solely by wealthy white people and interspersed throughout will be scenes from a bar with only black patrons. This sort of juxtaposition is not subtle, but it did not seem to be intended to illustrate any single specific idea. There was no "This is good" and "This is bad" statement applied in these comparisons, just the presentation of two very separate worlds. I think it forces the question of just how different are these worlds really, and if we were able to choose which world we wanted to live in ( which the Folks character could do ), which one would we choose. The bottom line on Trick Baby is that it is a well-told story of two charming con-men. There is also a lot in there to make you think about race in a broader context. Like the best blaxploitation films, there is more than meets the eye if you want to open yourself to it.

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