“I don’t know man. I know I’m not crazy, but every day I have to come here and watch this clown show, man. Sometimes, I just can’t take it. “
There are a couple of moments in the irresistible comedy “Car Wash” (1975) that are so piercingly good and unexpected for they’re so wise. The first one takes place about two thirds into its length, when Lindy – one of the workers – is confronted about his cross-dressing – and called a homophobic epithet. I was supposing something like this would happen sooner or later, and that the African American character would remain quiet or walk away in humiliation. Without missing a beat, Lindy walks to the bully and says “Honey, I am more man than you’ll ever be, and more woman than you’ll ever get.” She snaps her fingers and does a 180. The second one comes towards the end of movie, when Abdullah, another African American character, confides in Lonnie – a fellow co-worker – how tired he is of the system, and the racial injustice. Lonnie tells him optimistically “It’s all gonna be alright. We’ll work it out together.” They’re both sobering moments – that stand out for they bookend all this exuberance and riotous behavior in between.
“Car Wash” has the anarchic quality of a Marx Brothers movie – and is similarly episodic. It takes place during one working day – a hot one in July – at the Dee Luxe Car Wash in Los Angeles (the corner of Rampart and 6th Street). The radio DJ provides a form of narration – as does the soundtrack. It’s a multiracial group of employees. We meet all these disparate characters and get offered glimpses into their lives. The connecting narrative is that they’re all working at or visiting the business. The plot becomes unnecessary. There’s a chaotic – random – nature to all of it, and that’s part of the pleasure. It’s an unfiltered observation of human interactions. There are so many characters that are not introduced to you in the standard way that films do through traditional exposition. We seem to be dropping into the middle of conversations – as if we’d just shown up to an exciting cocktail party, and we have to catch up with the festivities. There are surprising developments and unexplained actions. The movie lovingly witnesses all of the different oddballs and their imperfections and shenanigans. We’re observing them as they are – without judgement – and yes, there’s ultimately a social and political commentary to distill.
The film – unfolding in a realistic manner – is directed by Michael Schultz whose films, including “Cooley High” (1975), combined lowbrow humor with social commentary. Originally intended to be a musical, the script was written by Joel Schumacher. It begins in the locker room where we eavesdrop on the employees as they start their day. There’s T.C. who adds a buzz sound at the end of his sentences and wants to be a super hero named ‘The Fly.’ “There ain’t no Black superman,” he argues. “I would be the first.” Floyd and Lloyd are performers at night – and do a great James Brown imitation. We meet Duane – a Muslin revolutionary – who prefers to be called Abdullah – and is chastised by the owner – Leon – for always being late. Irwin is Leon’s son and is on his summer break from college. Leon would prefer it if he were to help with the accounting, but Irwin – who wears a t-shirt emblazoned with Mao on it – argues he needs to work with the men. “I want to be one of the working class,” he states. “Like Mao says, workers of the world unite!” There’s a prostitute who takes shelter in the women’s bathroom for she can’t afford her taxi ride. George Carlin plays the cabbie and will reappear throughout the day looking for her. There’s the hysterical Beverly Hills lady (Lorraine Gary) – who is late for a salon appointment and whose son is throwing up all over her fancy car. A long limo will pull up carrying Daddy Rich (an over the top Richard Pryor) dressed up to the nines. He’s the reverend of The Church of Divine Economic Spirituality. He’s flanked by the Pointer Sisters who break spontaneously into song. A mad bomber has been terrorizing Los Angeles, and T.C. thinks he’s spotted him. The previously mentioned Lindy will clean their limo and when asked how it feels to be inside of it, responds “Like being in church with Burt Reynolds, honey.”
The tunes coming out of the radio are a constant – and they pulsate with R&B. The film was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, winning two awards including a special jury mention for best music. The songs were recorded by the group Rose Royce prior to filming – and they’re organically integrated into the narrative. T.C. shows up to the diner next door pining after the waitress Mona as “I Wanna to Get Next to You” plays. He mouths the lyrics to her. It’s touching and effective. The soundtrack won a Grammy in 1977.
It’s a strong cast and a warm, madcap message of unity. During the credits the characters get properly introduced to you.
Hippo: “Well there’s been some weird people in here today.”
Available to stream on STARZ via cable, satellite provider or via Prime Video. Available to rent on Apple TV, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Microsoft, Redbox and DIRECTV.
Written by Joel Schumacher
Directed by Michael Schultz
Starring Franklyn Ajaye, Bill Duke, George Carlin, Irwin Corey, Ivan Dixon, Antonio Fargas, Jack Kehoe, Clarence Muse, Lorraine Gary, The Pointer Sisters and Richard Pryor
About Actor Richard Pryor
…Born December 1, 1940, Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III became one of the most influential comedians in the history of comedy…He was expelled from school for a petty offense at age 14, and began working as janitor at a local strip club, work as shoe-shine and “careers” as drummer, meat packer, truck driver, and billiard hall attendant combined to pre-ordain a perspective of the black underclass in 1950s America that Pryor translated into honest and hilarious routines. Several brushes with the country’s penal system gave him first-hand knowledge of the treatment of blacks within it…Pryor’s first introduction to a life of performing came at age 12 when Juliette Whittaker, a supervisor at a public recreational facility in Peoria, cast him in a local production of “Rumplestiltskin.” Whittaker was so impressed by Richard’s comic ability that she arranged talent shows to showcase him and continued to influence him throughout his career. While serving in the Army (a brief stint 1958 to 1960 that ended when he had an altercation with a fellow G.I.), Pryor performed in many amateur shows. Upon his discharge, he got his first cabaret gig at his hometown Harold’s Club, where he played piano and sang badly. Quickly realizing that audiences preferred his jokes to his singing, Pryor began working as a professional comic in clubs throughout the Midwest. Inspired by Bill Cosby, Pryor went to New York in 1963 and gained recognition for his club work as a stand-up, performing on the same bill as such famous personalities as Bob Dylan and Richie Havens. While in New York, Pryor also garnered some mentorship from…Woody Allen. In 1966, Pryor penetrated the medium of television, appearing in summer shows such as Rudy Vallee’s “On Broadway Tonight” and the “Kraft Summer Music Hall.” These appearances, as well as several on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” and the “Johnny Carson” and “Merv Griffin” shows brought Las Vegas calling. His first foray into Las Vegas was as the opening act for Bobby Darin at the prestigious Flamingo Hotel. But hipper and more controversial than Cosby and the other Vegas acts, Pryor found it difficult to conform to the constrained Vegas format and finally walked off stage during a show at the Aladdin in 1969. On a journey to hone his voice, Pryor moved to Berkeley, California and hung out with such counter-cultural writers and personalities as Ishmael Reed and Huey P. Newton. After a couple of years in Berkeley, Pryor hit Hollywood in touch with his very unique brand of comedy.
He turned to films, starring in “The Busy Body” with Sid Caesar, and the classic “Wild in the Streets,” and released his first album, “Richard Pryor.” More movies followed, including “Lady Sings the Blues,” which earned him strong notice as Billie Holliday’s drug-addicted piano player. In all, Pryor, who in 1980 formed his own production company, Indigo (under the banner of Columbia Pictures), appeared in almost 50 movies, including several with Gene Wilder and the autobiographical “Jo Jo Dancer,” “Your Life is Calling.” Years before Eddie Murphy became the Klumps, Pryor took on three roles in the movie “Which Way Is Up,” appearing as a young man and his father as well as the wayward minister Lennox Thomas. In 1983, Pryor was paid $4 million (a unprecedented amount for a black actor and a million more than the film’s star Christopher Reeve) for his role as accomplice to the villain in “Superman III.” For the most part, Pryor considers his films undistinguished products from the Hollywood assembly-line, but amongst the formulaic slop there are black pearls of comedy that testify to his genius. On television, Pryor headlined and received high accolades for two series: “The Richard Pryor Show” (NBC, 1977), which contained one of the most talked about show openings in the history of television, and the children’s show “Pryor’s Place” (1984). He also hosted the hottest show on American TV, “Saturday Night Live,” with fellow comic luminaries as Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase and John Belushi. After appearing in both dramatic and comedic roles in dozens of popular television shows, in 1991 Pryor was the subject of a well-received variety special “A Party for Richard Pryor.” His work also earned him such honors as NATO Entertainer of the Year Award (National Association of Theater Owners, 1982), Lifetime Achievement Honoree for the American Comedy Awards (1992), CableACE Best Entertainment/Cultural Documentary or Informational Special (1993), NAACP Hall of Fame Award (1996), and first recipient of the prestigious annual Mark Twain Humor Prize (1998). But starring on television was not enough for this versatile entertainer and he began writing for shows as well, among them “Sanford and Son” and “The Flip Wilson Show” and most notably two 1973 Lily Tomlin specials, one of which earned him both an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award. At the same time, Pryor earned recognition for his directing abilities. His first screenwriting attempt (with Mel Brooks), “Blazing Saddles,” continued his success in this arena by earning him the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen. Pryor also tried his hand at authorship, penning (with Todd Gold) the autobiography “Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences” which Pantheon Books published to widespread acclaim in 1995.
But Pryor is best known and loved for his live comedy where he presents the truth as he sees it in a hyperkinetic, expletive-laced, free-form style. His subject matter includes black life on the streets, the drug culture, sex, and other topical issues, including the many tragedies of his own life (cocaine addiction, tumultuous marriages, killing his car, two heart attacks and quadruple by-pass surgery, and the famous incident of setting himself on fire from which he suffered third degree burns over 50 percent of his body ). His visit to Kenya in 1979 was life-changing and resulted in a condemnation of the word nigger. His abandonment of the word in his stage performances attracted death threats, hate mail and attacks on his home from some deranged former fans. But he stuck to his beliefs, never losing any of his funny. An astute observer of life, Pryor gave voice to such marginal members of the black community as bums, winos and junkies. Wino philosopher Mudbone is a beloved classic character. With Mudbone, as with all his characters, Pryor does not go for the easy ridicule but instead finds the precious humanity in even the most despicable. His White People characterizations are offered with such good humor and truth that those mimicked laugh the loudest. Pryor also gives incredibly real voice to such creatures as wild animals, his own pet monkeys, various dogs and his miniature horse. Pryor’s stand-up genius has been captured in four feature films, “Live and Smokin’ ,” “Richard Pryor Live in Concert ,” “Richard Pryor Live on Sunset Strip,” and “Here and Now” (the latter also his 1982 directorial debut). His numerous recordings have earned him two platinum albums, five golds, and five Grammy’s. The release on CD of several of these classic comedy albums (by Warner Bros. Records and Polygram, 2000) has brought a new generation of fans to Pryor’s timeless look at life. Coming soon from Rhino Records is a new CD anthology. But Pryor’s comedy has more than entertainment value. When he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Academy Award-winner Louis Gossett, Jr. credited Pryor as “the single most reason for us making it in this business. He made it possible for us [black people] to be in this business on equal terms.” Composer Quincy Jones called him “a pioneer. . . who made us understand the truth about us.” Indeed, Pryor’s material is so socially astute and confessional that he continually expands our notions of what may be perceived as funny. In 1986, Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. But that didn’t stop his performing. In 1992 he could still be seen live at the renowned Comedy Store in West Hollywood, making jokes about his afflictions and his wheelchair and still painting incredible verbal pictures that stimulated the imagination of the audience so much they actually lived and felt the experiences with him.
Richard Pryor may have been sidelined by MS, but he was so adamantly opposed to the use of animals in researching even his disease that he used his Christmas card to discourage donations to charities that still fund such tests. He’s been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top’s first African-American ringmaster something to think about. “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living,” Pryor wrote in a letter to Jonathan Lee Iverson, “I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals.” Pryor also crusaded against Burger King with Alec Baldwin. They sent letters asking owners of Burger King franchises to use their clout to get the fast-food corporation to meet or exceed the animal welfare standards set by its chief competitor, McDonald’s. Although his multiple sclerosis prevented him from performing in his last few years before his death in December 10, 2005, from his home in the Encino, which he shared with his two rescued dogs, Homer and Spirit, Pryor’s mind continued to catalog the events of his life and the world around him. Richard Pryor will never lose his position as cultural icon and we can only hope that a cure to this debilitating disease will soon be found so as not to loose another soul that reaches out and touches as did Pryor and his ability to allow us to experience our reality with the outrageous, profane, and scabrous perspective that only he imparted. (richardpryor.com)
About the Band, Rose Royce
As a principal vehicle for former Motown hitmaker Norman Whitfield’s engaging compositions, Rose Royce ascended to the top of the Soul Music world with a string of great hits and a tight, full sound that rivaled many of the best self-contained soul and funk groups of that era. Formed by trumpeter/vocalist Kenny Copeland, drummer Henry Garner, trumpeter Freddie Dunn and keyboardist Michael Nash in the mid-70s, the group first served as a backup band for Edwin Starr, who introduced them to his “War” producer, Whitfield. This led to regular work with many of Whitfield’s other Motown acts including the Undisputed Truth. Rose Royce is a nine member band in which Norman Whitfield produced the MCA soundtrack to the Richard Pryor movie “Car Wash.” With its hand-clapping, funky intro, exciting vocals and the band’s great performance, the title track became one of the biggest dance songs ever, leaping to #1 on the pop and soul charts and taking Rose Royce with it. Fortunately, the group turned out to be neither a one-hit-wonder nor just a dance band. Rose Royce’s follow up from the soundtrack, “I Wanna Get Next To You,” was a gorgeous ballad as strong as anything Whitfield had provided to the Temptations. The performance was again outstanding. “Car Wash” moved Rose Royce to the head of the R&B pack, and the group capitalized on its position with In Full Bloom, the band’s formal debut album (on Norman Whitfield’s own Whitfield Records), which topped the charts and landed the big hit, “Ooh Boy.” In 1978 Rose Royce again proved to be a great love song group, hitting the charts with two now-classic ballads, “Wishing On A Star” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” (later remade by Beyonce) and the top five album Rose Royce Strikes Again. Rose Royce continues to this day with the foundation of Copeland, Garner, Dunn, and Nash who self-released the album Live In Hollywood. A resurgence of their music, through the continuing popularity of “Car Wash” and the covers of some of their ballads by new generation singers, has made Rose Royce a popular touring act again and kept the classy funk and soul flowing well into the 21st century. (laketransfermgmt.com)
About Director Michael Schultz
Film director Michael Schultz was born on November 10, 1938, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After graduating from high school in 1957, Schultz attended the University of Wisconsin, where he spent a great deal of time watching foreign films. After dropping out of school, Schultz returned to Milwaukee where he worked in a steel mill from 1960 to 1961, eventually returning to school, studying at Marquette, and graduating in 1964. After graduation, Schultz attended Princeton University, where he was given the opportunity to direct his first play, “Waiting for Godot,” in 1966. Schultz’s work brought him to the attention of the Negro Ensemble Company; he joined the group in 1968. The following year, Schultz staged a production of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” which launched his success; he re-staged the play for television two years later. In the early 1970s, Schultz directed a number of television programs, including “Baretta” and “Starsky and Hutch,” and then began to focus his time on films. In 1975, Schultz directed “Cooley High, and the following year, “Car Wash;” his success continued, directing more than a dozen movies for the television and the big screen throughout the 70s and 80s, including “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Krush Groove,” about the rise of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, and the comedy “Disorderlies.” Schultz continued to direct throughout the 1990s, directing a number of popular television shows, including “Chicago Hope,” “JAG,” “Ally McBeal,” and “Charmed,” as well as several more made for television movies. After 2000, Schultz directed several other television shows, and in 2004, he directed “Woman Thou Art Loosed.” Schultz has also been involved in film and television production, having served as producer of the popular television show “Everwood,” as well as having produced some of his earlier film work. In addition to his work on the big and small screen, Schultz also found time to direct theater; notably his Broadway production of “Mule Bone,” written by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, staged in 1991. (thehistorymakers.org)