Film

Detroit 9000

by

Unavailable on video and not screened since 1973, Detroit 9000 is
a neatly schizoid period piece. Part funkily garbed blaxploitation flick and part big-city
political exposé, this is also the kind of movie that cheerfully leers at a scantily clad
salt-and-pepper lesbian couple through an open window, lingering to take in both kisses
and catfights. In What It Is, What It Was, a new history of blaxploitation from
Miramax Books being hyped along with the film, director Arthur Marks claims that 9000 only
became a blaxploitation flick during marketing and that this is really one of the best action flicks of 1973. In 1998, the chases and gunplay are mostly forgettable while the
period flourishes have become the main event.

Detroit 9000 opens at a black politician’s fundraiser (the lovely
ladies of Motown throw their diamonds into a basket only to have them stolen) and ends
with an orgiastic 25- minute chase sequence involving what looks like the entire
Detroit police department. In between we meet Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco), a dead-end
white cop with sinus trouble and an unwillingness to play black power–era
politics. The unpopular Bassett is put on the case mostly to take heat from the liberal
press and black activists, but starts making headway after he’s paired with a black
supercop, Jesse Williams (Daktari’s Hari Rhodes). Since the jewel heist is
solved mostly by accident, 9000′s central mystery is the content of
Bassett’s character. Williams can’t figure out if his partner actively dislikes
black people or is just a municipal dinosaur trying to cope with not being in charge
anymore. Detroit 9000′s biggest surprise is that it’s the smooth black
dick Williams who’s most moved by his partner’s desperation, the hypereducated
New Negro mourning the Man even as he coolly pushes him off center stage.