Let's have phone sex. First I'll send you a photo to inspire you. It should be in your mailbox in three or four days.
Above you see a rare image from Players magazine circa 1974 of cinema legend Pam Grier using a device known as a rotary telephone. It's a great shot of both her and the museum piece. A couple of other frames from her hang-out session exist that were used in the offshoot publication Players Girls Pictorial in 1976.
Grier saw nudity as liberating and empowering. In a Rolling Stone interview she said, about the choice to appear unclothed in films, “I wanted to make people start seeing women of color, because we weren’t the epitome of sexual attraction for the male audience, in movies, magazines, anything. I said, How come we don’t see women of color in Hollywood and see them beautifully, like Fellini and Bertolucci and Bergman see women?”
With her boldness Grier helped change the paradigm of onscreen sexuality a bit, and today her images are among the most coveted out there, with magazines in which she appeared nude often auctioning for more than a hundred dollars. Tall, angular, and lovely, she went from actress to cultural icon and maintains that status today. You can see all kinds of Grier in the website. Just click her keywords below.
Shaft hit America and changed the game.
We've discussed quite a few blaxploitation movies, but have neglected the 1971 thriller Shaft. What can you say about the granddaddy of them all, the movie that helped change Hollywood thinking about what viewpoints would sell? Many of the black oriented movies that came afterward were cash grabs, and for that reason most of them weren't good. No such problems exist with Shaft. It's fast, furious, and fun. Our viewing was a reminder that in addition to being a detective movie and a movie that centers black experiences, it's also a neo film noir in both execution and mood. Directed by acclaimed photographer and photo-journalist Gordon Parks, Shaft is gorgeous work, made mostly in actual locations around New York City, and sprinkled with symbology and visual metaphor right from the opening credits.
The character of Shaft is important in film history. Because the theme song is so widely heard most people know Shaft is a bad mother shut-your-mouth, but as the song also says, he's complicated. He lives in Greenwich Village in a bachelor pad decorated with modern art and filled with books. He's kind to children and helps people in need. He has feelings for his girlfriend but will not be tied down and is obliging toward other women who desire him. And he's a friend to any people who treat him with respect. This extends to his local bartender, who's gay and dispenses a familiar pat to Shaft's ass that we can assume isn't the first or last. A bad mother shut-your-mouth? For sure, but he's so much more. And likewise, Shaft is more than a detective movie. It's a cinematic achievement that entertains visually, intellectually, and viscerally. It's a must watch. It was first seen by the public at a special premiere in Detroit, Michigan today in 1971.
Ask not for whom the Bell is mistaken.
If you do an image search on the above photo, every website in which it exists (that would include Getty Images, Yahoo, CNN, et al) says it's Paula Kelly, shot during the making of the 1972 blaxploitation movie Trouble Man. There's just one problem—she isn't Paula Kelly. She's actually—and obviously, we think—Jean Bell, who appeared in such movies as TNT Jackson and Policewomen. Bell and Paula Kelly don't look alike, but just the same they're the victims of an IRE™ (internet replication error) that probably will never be corrected. We're not perfect here, but we also don't have a research department like CNN and Getty Images. Because of the misidentification we don't have a copyright on this shot, but it's probably from around 1974.
The dress doesn't work as camouflage, but as a fashion statement it's tops.
Pam Grier posed for this photo when she was making the a-list crime drama Fort Apache, The Bronx, which was headlined by superstar Paul Newman. Grier was far down the cast list, playing a drug addict prostitute. It was quite a demotion from her starring roles during the blaxploitation era, but the movie was a big hit. She'd finally be toplisted in a mainstream Hollywood movie when Quentin Tarantino cast her in 1997's Jackie Brown, and it was worth the wait. This shot is from 1981.
Sometimes you can't win no matter what you do.
This poster was made for the crime drama Book of Numbers, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1973. The movie falls into the category of blaxploitation, but it's also an ambitious period piece, with a Depression era focus, a deep subtext, and a determination to portray a type of black American life rarely seen onscreen. During the lean years of 1930s a couple of waiters who harbor big dreams ditch food service and hatch a scheme to set up a numbers racket. They roll into El Dorado, Arkansas, get some local help, and soon are making cash faster than they know how to spend it. Their success inevitably attracts the attention of the law, organized crime, and the local Ku Klux Klan. Can the protagonists succeed against all these foes? And what does success look like for black men in the 1930s? No matter how much money they make, they are still not respected, safe, or free.
The movie stars future Miami Vice stud Philip Michael Thomas, along with Raymond St. Jacques, who produced and directed. Their two characters are decades apart in age, and vastly different in how they deal with constant racism. Thomas takes no guff from anyone, even when it costs him; St. Jacques will play any role expected of him by whites in order to survive. This doesn't sit well with the hot-headed Thomas, and leads to growing resentment. In our view, this is the most unique aspect of the film. It implies that because society forces black men to play roles, they can never be truly known by anyone outside their intimate circle. Robert Deane Pharr wrote the source material for this, and it must be an interesting novel, because it spawned a good movie. Book of Numbers is tough, adult, thought-provoking, and historically revealing. We recommend it for 1930s buffs, blaxploitation aficionados, and of course fans of Miami Vice.
Justice is served—ice cold.
Above: poster art for the blaxploitation flick Black Belt Jones, starring Jim Kelly as the last man standing between honest folk and a mafia land grab. We talked about it last year, and you can read what we thought and see the Italian promo art by Ermano Iaia at this link. You can also see two nice Kelly promo shots here and here. The movie premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
Unlike mama's boys, they're fully able to take care of themselves.
Ages ago we shared a Turkish poster for the blaxploitation flick Black Mama, White Mama, with Pam Grier and Margaret Markov. Today we're sharing the U.S. promo, as well as a nice production photo of the stars. The movie, which premiered today in 1972, was a regendering of The Defiant Ones, but done with a lot more skin and a lot less budget. Even so, it was pretty fun, as women-in-prison flicks go—if you start with modest expectations. You can see more promos from the film here.
Trouble comes with two guns blazing.
We'll assume we don't have to define the vernacular term “G” as used in our header, and will merely point out that this is a very nice Italian promo poster for the 1972 blaxploitation movie Trouble Man. In Italy it was titled Detective G., and in Italian the G stands for something non-vernacular—guai: “trouble." There's no release date for Italy, but the movie—which is well worth seeing—probably played there sometime in 1973.
You wouldn't believe the mischief I get up to inside this thing.
This wonderful 1973 promo image of U.S. actress Gloria Hendry demonstrates the adage “less is more,” as in less skin. We've shown you shots of her in a bikini, with her six-pack abs and muscled arms, but this voluminous kaftan does something special for her. It's like she's hiding a secret. We'll have more of Hendry later.
There are only three sure things: taxes, death, and trouble.
Above is a poster for the drama Trouble Man, a well known movie from the blaxploitation cycle, not least because Marvin Gaye wrote the excellent soundtrack. In fact, a line from his theme song provided our subhead about taxes, death, and trouble. Like his music, unusual talent went into the film. That goes for the direction by Ivan Dixon, the writing, and the acting. All of that is pretty well known. The movie usually makes it onto lists of best blaxploitation movies. But it can also hold its own with most detective movies from outside the genre made during the early seventies, and because blaxploitation had so many cheap, fly-by-night productions, the fact that you don't have to squint beyond many shortcomings to see it as a good movie is something to appreciate.
Robert Hooks plays a Los Angeles badass who everyone calls simply Mr. T. He makes his money as a fixer, taking care of people's troubles for payment. That's where the “T” comes from—T for trouble. Two underworld figures who run craps games come to him because their game nights are being robbed by masked men. For $10,000 T agrees to stop the thieves. Unfortunately, the robbery tale is a set-up. The two underworld guys plan to frame T for murder. The how of it is a bit complicated to explain in a short write-up, but the important detail is why—the planned mark is a top henchman of a rival gangster, and his death will make the rival's territory ripe for a takeover. The plan works, as does the frame, but T doesn't end up in jail or dead, which means he's on the loose to dig for answers.
Hooks had already been a working actor for years by the time he took on the role of Mr. T, and the experience shows. He's far better than the music stars and ex-athletes that often headlined blaxploitation productions (though a few of them were good too). An ace cast is needed because this is the type of film where the audience knows exactly what's going on from the beginning, while T and the cops are in the dark. Without a mystery, the tension is provided by filling the movie with numerous tough guys who don't give an inch. Hooks has more than enough presence to hold his own. Thanks to him and his capable co-stars, including the regal Paula Kelly as his girlfriend, Julius Harris as a top criminal figure, and Vince Howard as Harris's main strongman, Trouble Man delivers the goods. It premiered today in 1972. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
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