Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Tomaso Files: Greased Lightning - A Pivotal Movie

As you cannot deny Wendell Scott’s Tenacity!


Welcome to Black History Month. Y’all know, the Shortest Month of the Year, coInky-dense? Not to mention how little progress has been made since last year.


So I’m not sure what’s worse? That I’m just posting this now, or the fact that I’d never “seen” the movie before?


Sunday night, December 4, 2022 on Turner Classic Movies. (TCM) I sat down to “Watch,” Err listen some 45-plus years after being released on Ye Big Screen. (July 1, 1977) To the movie Greased Lightning.


Ironically, and without knowing it. Just Days prior to my “watching” this movie in it’s entirety. Leading Lady Pam Grier just so happened to be on an episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, which I managed to catch unexpectedly…


Following the movie’s airing a few days later, we celebrated you know what by lowering our (Oregon) State Flags to Half Mast on December 7th. Which made me wonder why Don’t we Honor African Americans in a similar way? As they certainly also Fought for Our Country. And I’d say repeatedly!


As it’s Funny to Mwah, that when I think of Richard Pryor, I immediately think of that long ago great movie Silver Streak, which I was surprised to just learn actually Debuted some seven months earlier on December 8, 1976. Or His later Stand Up Comedy Specials. Not to mention learning that Prior and Co-Star Gene Wilder would go on to Star in three more movies together.


For those of you unaware, Greased Lightning is a movie about Wendell Scott, the first Black Driver to win a NASCAR race. Starring Richard Prior, the aforementioned Pam Grier and Beau Bridges.


Since I can still loosely recall the Pundits mentioning the name of Charlie Scott preceding the movie’s beginning, having raced before Wendell Scott.


The 1977 Film is loosely based on Scott’s Autobiography and opens with a scene of Him winning a Bicycle race at Age 15. Then starts with Wendell returning Home from World War II to a Celebratory Welcome Home party that includes His future wife Mary Jones.


Although now having read more about Wendell, it’s definitely loosely based on His Biography. And I’d say it’s also been “Dressed Up” for Hollywood’s necessary Dramatic license! Since it’s not chronologically correct. But it’s a great movie nonetheless. Specifically in regards to portraying the Overt Racism Wendell endured His Whole life!


As the movie doesn’t explain what Wendell did during the War. But apparently He was a Mechanic in then the Segregated U.S. Army. As Scott tells His Mom He Doesn’t want to work at the Cotton Mill plant in Hometown Danville, Virginia, and uses His Muster Pay to buy a Taxi and open an Auto repair Garage.


When Mary’s family asks Wendell what He wants to do in life, He replies He wants to become a Championship winning Racecar Driver to great laughter…


Yet unable to pay for the garage, Scott sees a friend running Moonshine and asks for a Job. As the movie goes, Wendell eludes the Cops for five years with the Police having Destroyed nine Patrol Cars in the process of Chasing Him.


Scott’s friend basically sets Him up and Wendell’s finally caught by the Police. In order to keep from going to Jail. The local Short Track Promoter comes up with the Scheme that if Wendell will drive in a race at His Track and finishes the race, 12 of the 15 Charges against Him will be Dropped.


As the White people want to see Him get Killed, and the White Drivers deliberately Crash into Wendell, who nevertheless finishes the race…


There’s a great scene when Wendell finishes fourth and is awarded two Steak dinners at a “Whites Only” Restaurant, where fellow White Racing Driver “Hutch,” played by Beau Bridges befriends Him and goes to Dinner with Him, before Hutch becomes His Mechanic.


And there’s the scene where Wendell wins a race, but isn’t declared the winner until two Hours later due to a Scoring Error. Which truly occurred when Scott became the first African American to win what then was the NASCAR Grand National Stock Car series at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. A Half Mile Dirt Track on December 1, 1963, when He passed “the King,” aka Richard Petty whose racecar was faltering. For which Buck Baker was erroneously declared the initial winner and given the race trophy.


As History denotes, Baker allegedly “lost” the trophy and Wendell never received it before He Died in 1990 at Age 69 from Spinal Cancer. And it wasn’t until 2021 that NASCAR finally awarded Scott’s Family a replica trophy, some six years after Wendell was posthumously inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.


I’m Happy I got to “See,” Uhm Hear the movie in it’s original, uncensored format, for which today would be impossible. Only in the sense of Hearing How Racist people were just over a Half Century ago. For which it further Disturbed me when after the movie was over. The TCM “Narrator” Ben Mankiewicz told a disturbing story to the movie’s filming.


The racing footage was filmed on local Racetracks in Georgia. At the former Athens Speedway and Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron.


Where at one of these racetracks, the film’s Onlookers, presumably White were doing their best to Interrupt the movie’s filming by Yelling and Screaming every time the action began.


And this crowd was so Obnoxious that the Director had to revert to yelling Cut to begin a scene in order to confuse the disruptive crowd. And Action when He wanted the scene to end…


Not sure if the 1962 Chevrolet racecar that Wendell Scott built for the movie, and once was on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame is still present? While I really enjoyed the movie’s Soundtrack, that was written and performed by Richie Havens.


While Rockabilly Artist and fellow Danvillian’ Mojo Nixon recorded the Ballad of Wendell Scott, which I’d never Heard the song before, or of Mojo Nixon…