Don't hate the dealer. Hate the game.
Did you know the main character in Super Fly is named Priest? Over time he's become known as Superfly, but in the film the term comes up only once—when someone says to Priest, “You always got some super fly shit!” He's referring to cocaine. Priest is a drug dealer, but he wants out and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. This is one of the better blaxploitation flicks. Ron O'Neal's Priest is tough but three-dimensional, showing vulnerability, confusion, even desperation. Dynamic if uneven direction from Gordon Parks, Jr. and a propulsive soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield help put the whole concept over. In fact, after you watch the movie, you should listen to the album, particularly the sparkling, “Give Me Your Love,” which we think is one of the most immaculately constructed soul tunes ever written. Super Fly premiered in the U.S. in the summer of 1972 and opened in Japan today in 1973.
Jeanne Bell karate chops her way across Hong Kong.
T.N.T. Jackson, for which you see the U.S. promo poster above, is a mid-budget blaxploitation flick built around clumsy martial arts, a flimsy plot, and shoddy acting. But it has Jeanne Bell. Playboy magazine had made Bell a centerfold in 1969. From there she launched a movie career, with T.N.T. Jackson coming ninth in her filmography. She plays Diana “T.N.T.” Jackson, who learns that her brother was killed by Hong Kong drug dealers and seeks payback. While the plot is nothing special, Bell certainly is. She was twenty-five and wore a bouffant hair-do when she first appeared in Playboy; in T.N.T. she was thirty and had blossomed into an unforgettable beauty with a frosted afro, kicking and chopping her way across the movie screen. All the fight scenes are hilarious, with their cut-rate choreography and claw-handed posing, but they're fun to watch, especially the one in which she kicks the shit out of a bunch of guys while wearing only panties. That bit seems to us a clear homage to Reiko Ike's totally nude fight in 1973's Sex & Fury, another movie that surpasses its limitations by piling on style and attitude. Is T.N.T. Jackson actually good? No—but we bet it'll make you smile. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
It's strong and bold and might be just the wake-up you need.
Coffy is not a movie we planned to write about, due to the fact that it's been covered by so many websites. But then we came across this French poster made for its release in Paris today in 1973—where it was called Coffy: la panthère noire de Harlem—and we changed our minds. The movie possibly falls into the category of those everyone has heard about but few have seen, so we gave it a run for the first time in some years. The story is straightforward—a teen girl is in the hospital suffering from the effects of an overdose, and her sister, played by Pam Grier, goes looking for revenge. She kills the dealer who sold heroin to her sister, but soon learns there's another dealer behind that one, and so forth. In a world that's corrupt to the core, revenge is a maze where the center is impossibly difficult to find.
Coffy isn't well acted, but those who go in expecting Oscar worthy performances are setting up false standards. Blaxploitation was about telling stories from a new point of view, one lacking in American cinema. Trying to round out a black cast, as well as find compelling black leads, meant taking chances and bringing novice performers into the fold. The message is what mattered in these movies, and the message was that something was seriously wrong in America. Those who paid attention learned one of the most basic lessons anyone can learn—your reality is just one of many. Other people live entirely different lives governed by different, equally valid truths. Mainstream Americans who understood this concept learned plenty from blaxploitation. Those who denied this most simple of life's facts learned nothing—and are the same people who today look at what happens in America's inner cities with bafflement or scathing contempt.
Coffy was really an envelope pushing film. We'll just highlight one scene to make that point. Pam Grier's title character has sex with her boyfriend then heads toward the bathroom. On the way there, but off-camera, we hear her say, “Oops! Oh, you shouldn't have made me laugh.” What do you supposed happened? Here's a hint—it involves spillage, and not from a glass. It may well have been the first movie ever to hint at post-coital drainage. Later it does another off-camera bit with oral sex when Grier pours wine in her boyfriend's lap and proceeds to clean it up. Coffy may not have been well acted, but it had moments of earthy realism that were almost microscopic in focus. You also get plenty of action and a fierce, single-minded heroine you can root for. Coffy opened in France today in 1973. Check out a rare U.S. promo poster for it here.
You know that whole forbidden fruit concept? I've never agreed with it.
Above, a nice shot of blaxploitation star Marilyn Joi, aka Tracy King, who appeared in notable efforts such as Black Samurai and the unforgettable Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, but is probably best known as Cleopatra Schwartz from the mainstream comedy Kentucky Fried Movie. This photo appeared on the cover of Players magazine in 1980.
Hong Kong kidnappers have problems mastering possession, and so do the filmmakers.
If Tarantino likes it, it must be tops. At least that's the assumption some would make upon learning that 1976's Ebony, Ivory & Jade has Tarantino's stamp of approval. Well, despite the endorsement and status as a minor classic of the blaxploitation genre, the film isn't great. It has some highlights, including confidently staged action sequences and camerawork that does seem to have influenced Tarantino. But its failings are legion—bad script, wooden acting, and heavy duty crushed black levels that make the actors almost impossible to see in the night sequences. We'll give a pass on that last problem, because it could have happened during the video or DVD transfer.
We'll admit though, this flick is damned funny in parts—unintentionally so, foremost the character Stacy's beatdown of a bad guy who morphs into a dummy at the moment she hoists him overhead and helicopter spins him through a room divider. The basic idea of the film is also appealing—Hong Kong bad guys kidnap five female track stars for ransom, unaware that two of them happen to be martial arts experts that will cause no end of trouble once they untie themselves. Playboy playmate Rosanne Katon in the lead role is also a plus. But as blaxploitation, even a discernibly elevated budget doesn't lift the film above other entries in the genre.
As a side note, the above promo poster should help put to rest any idea that apostrophe illiteracy has something to do with modern education or the internet or whatever. It has always been a problem, and we see it all the time in vintage material. This particular failure to master the possessive form is pretty egregious, though. Yes, it's attached to a movie shot in the Philippines, but the error made it all the way through a phalanx of American writers, designers, pre-press workers, printers, and producers working in the U.S. of A. at—or at least for—Lawrence Woolner's Dimension Pictures. Pretty bad. Though as we've noted in the past, sometimes apostrophe placement can be legitimately tricky.
Hah hah—you can only wish you knew me.
Pam Grier was one of Pulp Intl.’s first femmes fatales so it seems only right to bring her back every once in a while. This shot of her appeared on the May 1975 cover of New York magazine and is probably one of the best images of her ever made. The accompanying text called her “a new kind of Hollywood star.” That was true of her and several other women who came up through the blaxploitation ranks, but Grier was really top of the heap—she was the best, the bravest, and by far the most famous. She's had steady success for more than forty years, but we really enjoy those old movies of hers, and this photo captures her at the peak of that period.
Grier reappears in her rightful place.
Remember the two excellent Italian posters for the 1974 swords-and-sandals/blaxploitation epic The Arena? Usually the American posters for films from this era compare unfavorably to the foreign versions, but in this case the U.S. promo is also very good. And as a bonus Grier actually gets to star on this one. On the Italian versions she was entirely whitewashed from one, and relegated to secondary status on the other. Not only that—on the text of both posters Italian actress Lucretia Love is given top billing, though she’s actually a supporting character in the film. We can only assume the distributors thought Italian audiences wouldn’t flock to cinemas to see a movie headlined by Grier, and dissed her twice over. Well, above we see her where she belongs.
Going nowhere fast in Harlem.
Hell Up in Harlem premiered in the U.S. today in 1973. It was the sequel to Black Caesar, which had been a surprise hit in cinemas a mere ten months earlier. The rush to make a follow-up shows. Hell Up in Harlem is eleven different kinds of inept, a tableau of repellent characters, bad scripting, and poorly staged action. It's not as if ambitions were low here. The movie tells the story of a Harlem crime kingpin who becomes pitted against his devious and ambitious father, imparting the lesson that family relationships come apart like tissue paper if the profit motive is strong enough. Yes, there was a good movie in here somewhere, but it never quite gelled. However Hell Up in Harlem does feature some of the best promo photos we've seen from the blaxploitation genre, and we've posted a few just below. The time it will take you to look at these four photos ismore than the amount of time the fight scene lasts—another flaw of Hell Up in Harlem. The shots show star Fred Williamson in mortal combat with Mindi Miller, who appeared in many films, including Westworld, Body Double, and Amazons. You can find these images around the internet, and she's misidentified on every single one of those websites—even Getty Images—as Gloria Hendry, who she clearly isn't. We also have, below, a great nude promo of Williamson. About time we featured a naked guy, right? Well, don't blame us for the lack. They just didn't make much in the way of nude male promos back then—especially ones like this. And speaking of unexpected, what's that dark shape between Williamson's thighs? We bet he didn't plan on showing that. But don't let it entice into you watching the movie. You'll regret it.
Grier and Markov team up for a Roman gladiator epic.
Though Margaret Markov stars on this poster for La rivolta delle gladiatrici, aka The Arena, aka Naked Warriors, while co-star Pam Grier is nowhere to be seen and barely manages to secure a spot on poster two, below, let there be little doubt—Grier is the center of this film about women thrown into a Roman arena to fight for their lives. The women begin as domestic and sex slaves, but when they get into a kitchen brawl the ferocity of the fight gives their owner Timarchus the bright idea to convert them into gladiators. What follows ends with a showdown between Grier and Markov, once rivals, now friends, but pitted against each other in a battle to the death. The two had already starred together in Black Mama White Mama, but this effort is better. Filmed in Rome and Lazio, it has a realistic look, a script that works, and co-leads with a developed chemistry as screen partners. As a bonus you get Rosalba Neri and Lucretia Love in supporting roles. Recommended stuff. La rivolta delle gladiatrici premiered in Italy today in 1974. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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