DISCO 9000 – or FASS BLACK as it’s called on the Xenon Entertainment VHS tape I rented – is a 1977 movie about a super big shot who runs a record label and dance club in the top of a 26 story building on the Sunset Strip. It’s the second of two movies directed by the actor D’Urville Martin (GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, ROSEMARY’S BABY, BLACK CAESAR) – the first one was DOLEMITE. So yes, he’s the guy Wesley Snipes played in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.
Fass Black is the name of said big shot, played with distinct swagger by John Poole, whose only other role was as “Record Executive” in the Philip Michael Thomas movie DEATH DRUG (1978). He also has story and wardrobe credits on this. And wardrobe credit is big because that’s about half of the character. One notable thing about this movie is that he wears white-framed sunglasses more often than he doesn’t. It went long enough without showing his eyes at the beginning that I was convinced it was gonna be a DREDD thing where he never takes them off.
This shares some of the crude filmmaking of DOLEMITE – for example, any dancing montage seems filmed separately from the music, with numerous body-only closeups that make me suspect they were using the same dancers with costume changes – but it’s not even partly a comedy. It’s a drama about the glamour and struggle of a Black entrepreneur, but it contains two major Blaxploitation elements. First, it’s a crime story about white businessmen/mobsters waging war on him after he won’t give them what they demand of him. Second, it glorifies him as the world’s most cartoonishly desirable lady’s man. He’s generous with his money, and not his time or his love, but absolutely everybody in his life worships him and would do anything for him, especially women.
Which I guess is a little more plausible in this case than in Rudy Ray Moore’s. Fass is slim and wears great clothes and his general vibe is if there was a teleportation accident on the set of that one episode of Miami Vice and Miles Davis got Brundleflyed with Philip Michael Thomas.
The movie opens with a white music executive Mr. Bellamy (Nicholas Lewis, “Construction Worker,” HOMEBODIES) flying into town to chew out his Black L.A. subordinate Manny (Sidney Bagby, no other credits) about poor record sales in his district. Manny Carlyle explains that the records that sell are the ones that play in the discos and one of the main clubs, Disco 9000, only plays records released by their own label. Or, as the theme song by Johnnie Taylor says, “I hear the hippie’s skip and they get their kicks / bumpin all night long out on Sunset Strip / To the music of the brother man who’s got himself a plan / that makes him king of Boogie Land.”
By the way, this is a movie about running a disco, but the music is not what we normally think of as disco. Much more soulful and funky. Anyway, they go to try to convince Fass Black to play their records. It does not go well.
Fass is introduced playing tennis with his unnamed attorney (Paula Sills, MISTRESS OF THE APES), who he also kisses and is later in bed with on a boat, as she talks about depositions. (I didn’t guess that this was setup for a part later where he needs legal representation. But I love that.) When he goes to the club he’s hit on on the elevator, then strolls in and kisses one of his employees, (“only one bee gets this honeycomb” she says – apparently monogamous towards him though she surely knows he doesn’t reciprocate). Then he gets a call from his wife Karen (T.N.T. Jackson herself, Jeannie Bell), who apparently lays lustily on bed in front of hugging monkey dolls, anxiously waiting for him to come home. (And she says they have kids. We never see them.) He also has an ex named Denise (Beverly Ann) who comes to visit him and is clearly still in love with him. He has a son with her named Kevin (Deon Green) who he sees one time during the movie – at Denise’s funeral! – and he just tells him to go with his grandmother, gives him some cash and promises to take him out on the boat later.
Bellamy and Manny have a hard time getting a meeting, having to wait a day, and then he’s not receptive at all. He’s never heard of their label Shenandoah so he calls his in-house music producer Gene Edwards (played by the movie’s actual soundtrack provider, Johnnie Taylor) to ask about them on speaker phone (or “squawk box,” he calls it).
“What kind of music do they make? Can you pat your foot to it?”
“Are you kidding? Yeah, they got something you can pat your feet to. If you happen to be in a truck stop somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma. As a matter of fact they set a perfect example of how not to make records. And you gonna put that in your disco? That’s suicide, man.”
It’s funny to see them fume at the insults, but of course they retaliate. They have a bunch of guys in ski masks wreck all the cars in the parking garage, and it escalates from there, even attacking the studio and steeling the reel-to-reels.
Definitely the best character is Fass’s right hand man Midget (dancer Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers). He comes up to the shoulders on most people but he’s a tough little smartass. I love how much he hates the Shenandoah guys before they even do anything. And I love the scene where he intervenes to scare away some guys they know are vice squad cops trying to bust prostitutes. (Fass isn’t in on it, but figures arrests would be bad for business.) Those little day-in-the-life details about running the business are what make the movie fun – bouncers having to throw people out (the elevator seems like a security nightmare), Fass having to interrupt champagne with a lady to deal with a guy shooting up in the restroom.
It’s also just a cool cast of unknown actors and people you wouldn’t generally see in a mainstream movie. In addition to having one of the great tap dancers as a cool wide-collar guy kicking drug pushers down the stairs, there’s a scene where he goes to meet with Mr. Jackson, an old family friend who says he used to run moonshine with his dad, and I didn’t realize it but Mr. Jackson is played by Matthew Beard, a.k.a. Stymie from Little Rascals.
Fass is always very nice and respectful to women, but I don’t believe you could split your time between that many partners without hurting or deceiving them. And I definitely don’t think a father should be that distant from his kids. So I’m not saying Fass is a perfect role model. But it’s cool that he represents the SUPER FLY sort of stick-it-to-the-man Blaxploitation figure without killing people or selling drugs. He just wants to live it up in his Rolls Royce or by the swimming pool or on the boat with his attorney or watching himself on TV in his palm-tree-decorated office, and he wants to finance that lifestyle by producing the best music and showing people a great time at his club. As his friend Fat Daddy (Harold Daniels, FOOLIN’ AROUND) points out, nobody would bother him about it if he stayed in the ghetto. Because he does it in Hollywood all the white people want a piece of it, and he refuses to play their game. So you can see how he could be an inspirational figure.
The screenplay is credited to a Roland S. Jefferson M.D., whose other IMDb credits are the aforementioned DEATH DRUG (1978), additional dialogue on the Jim Brown movie PACIFIC INFERNO (1979) and a 1991 movie called PERFUME, which he also directed. He shares DISCO 9000’s “based on a story by” credit with Poole and Demetrius Johnson (whose only other credits are for Fass Black’s wardrobe and producing DEATH DRUG).
The bio at the beginning of this interview with Jefferson says he also produced a 1979 movie called WHACK ATTACK, which would have to be the Rudy Ray Moore movie DISCO GODFATHER. He was a psychiatrist turned filmmaker, and at the time of the interview (promoting PERFUME in 1991) he was still taking clients.
Okay, I’m done now, but I want to share a couple more pictures real quick.
- Fass’s shades make him iconic. He’s unmistakable even in silhouette. Like Mickey mouse.
- It seems like it would be pretty fun to be Fass if he ever gets left alone long enough to just hang out in his office like he wants to.
- And finally, apparently this is a poster for the same movie! I think it’s fair to say this is misleading. The only thing that really matches up is there are some guys in red ski masks. I wonder if the guy with the guns is supposed to be Midget? I hope it is and I hope he had this poster framed in his house.