11 February 2010

Mr. T's Be Somebody or Be Somebody's Fool


Mr. T’s Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool
United States - 1984
Director – Jeff Margolis
MCA Home Video, 1984, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour

It’s hard to say something positive about this movie without sounding like I’m trying to be retro and ironic. I have a hard time separating the history of the Reagan years from its consumer products. Hence I am more than just a little suspicious of anything retro 80’s. Mr. T’s Be Somebody Or Be Somebody’s Fool may be one of the few exceptions to my 80’s complex, though now that I’ve said so I’m sure I’ve screwed that up too. Except for memories of my everyday life, my cultural memory of the 80’s is dominated by Mr. T. He was on The A Team, had his own cartoon, was in movies, had toys, cassette tapes, breakfast cereal, the list goes on.

As one of the original generation of kid’s motivational video-tapes it’s easy to look back with incredulity on this genre. They seem almost crude, but they were the first of their kind, experiments. Child psychology is more sophisticated now, and those of us doing the ridiculing are all grown up and we like to pretend that we’re no longer impressionable. But watch Be Somebody, and you know for sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt that even though it’s scripted, Mr. T was fucking sincere when he made this movie (and the separately available companion book, LP and cassette.) And you still watch with rapt attention because after all these years you can’t dilute the potency of the T. Unlike Charles Barkley who 9 years later would claim that he “wasn’t a role model,” Mr. T knew he was, wanted to be, and took the job seriously. (and yes, made some money at it.)

With the help of musical arrangements by Ice-T and special appearances by New Edition (w/Bobby Brown) and Valerie Landsburg (Fame and Thank God It’s Friday) T admonishes kids to exercise, avoid corporate apparel schemes, control their anger, rap about who they are and above all be themselves. The undeniable purity of message climaxing in a phenomenal solo piece about respecting ones mother, performed by T and backed up by the moms of three kids in the film. The kids themselves include a number of future stars including members of The Dimples, among them Stacy Ferguson.

It’s true, Mr. T cannot escape his bubble in time, ensconced as he is within the dichotomous optimism of 80’s urbania, but through a series of well-timed costume changes in Be Somebody, he still effectively delivers his message a quarter century later.
Be Somebody boils that message into one potent essence. T is not pandering, the delivery here is deadpan and absolutely serious. On the surface Mr. T is larger than life; absurd but undeniably genuine. That is the whole point, and that is why it works. T is simultaneously the front-man and the hype-man, dropping knowledge and working the crowd. He is a beast, a huge man of simple enthusiasm, dedication and most of all honesty. His willingness to try and make a difference while wearing tiny camouflage tennis shorts is ample proof.

I scanned the three images above from the companion book advertised in this flyer that came with my video. Watch the whole video on YouTube in 6 parts.

This review first appeared in issue 8 of Paracinema Magazine, Dec. 2009.


Shelby Cobras said...

I can't believe I'd never thought of writing about this classic before. SOOOO good, my old roommate had the VHS tape and it was required viewing for guests of the household. Kudos, Seth. Well spoken (written).

The Goodkind said...

Thanks Mr. Cobras. This was in pretty heavy circulation at my house too a couple years back. It still pops up at the bar every once in a while when we do movies there.