Car Wash is an odd film, it comes at the tail end of blaxploitation craze of the early to mid ’70s. Car Wash came out at the moment when soul music became disco and has been cited as some historians as the first “disco movie” but the soundtrack is more soul infused even if it became a “disco hit”. At the time it was received with mixed reviews and the box-office wasn’t much better, the soundtrack album was a much bigger but over the years it’s became a minor cult classic.
As the title suggests it’s set at a Car Wash and it’s set during the space of one day. It’s a car wash which is operated by mostly African-Americans which is a hodgepodge of different facets of the black community. The characters include the revolutionary Muslim Duane (Bill Duke), Ex-con Lonnie (Ivan Dixon) and the drag queen Lindy played by Antonio Fargas who just had big success from playing Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch. The car wash is visited by extended cameos from George Carlin’s taxi driver and Richard Pryor as the money obsessed preacher evangelist Daddy Rich who is surrounded by the Pointer sisters.
The weirdest thing about Car Wash is the fact the screenplay was written by Joel Schmacher of all people. Schmacher also wrote the black centric films The Wiz and Sparkle around the same time. Schmacher is openly gay so the character of Lindy which could have easily came off as a stereotype seems like a much more well-rounded and militantly gay character than a straight writer may have written. Fargas’ own brother is gay which probably helped him get under the skin of his character. It doesn’t completely escape caricature but given the depictions of LBGT characters on the screen during the ’70s its way more forward thinking than most.
Car Wash remains a solid comedy which isn’t laugh out loud funny but contains real heart. It has something to say about race, class, sexuality and even organised religion which is rare for what was sold as a frothy comedy. The performances are strong, the cameos are great even if Brooke Shields and Danny DeVito’s roles were reduced to non speaking roles in the finished film and the songs are great. Fabulous Films have a worldwide Blu-Ray debut here and contains a commentary track from the director Michael Schultz who has absolutely no relation to me as far as I know.