Saturday, March 14, 2009

PAM GRIER: She's a Whole Lot of Woman

Pam Grier is one of the few fortunate persons who become icons. She’ll probably never be a symbol for feminists, but she’ll forever be the hallmark of the true liberated, independent and assertive Woman.

Discovered by Roger Corman while working as an office assistant at American International Pictures, she would star on a handful of movies between 1971 and 1975, each of which would prove to be surprising commercial successes and gather a growing cult following throughout the years.

From early supporting roles on such cult classics as HIT MAN (1971) and COOL BREEZE (1972) where she is still billed as Pamela Grier, she caught the rising wave of the highly profitable and surprisingly popular black action films (since then known under the moniker of Blaxploitation), establishing herself as the archetype of the modern black woman that wouldn’t stand still when confronted with corruption, injustice or racism (“That’s miss nigger, to you”). But it was the series of WIP films she made for AIP between 1971-1972, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971), WOMEN IN CAGES (1971), BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1972) and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) that propelled her to stardom as Pam Grier, paving the way to the iconic and iconoclastic trilogy that would put her in the history books as an icon of popular culture: COFFY (1973), FOXY BROWN (1974) and FRIDAY FOSTER (1975).

In these films, Grier pulls no punches, backs before no one and looks as good as one can desire. Dealing death and castration like some unleashed goddess, she was the first (and remains unrivalled) bad ass mama. Sexually alluring, moving with the graciousness of a black panther, and acutely smart, Grier built a persona out of the several characters she played in her movies; a persona with whom black women of the 70s could identify and every male (whichever the colour) could desire and fear.

A persona that could almost be encapsulated on the demise of Grizelda, which Grier played in 1971’s HIT MAN: like a black goddess out of the darkest jungle, it takes a lion to attempt to tame her… and as we avert our mesmerized gaze, we’re left to wonder if it will do the trick.

Grier was so identified with the Blaxploitation phenomenon that she went under the radar almost at the same time as the genre was waning: by 1975, Spielberg’s JAWS was taking exploitation out of the drive-in and the flea-pits and into the mainstream family theatres. And in 1976, white man and black man exchanged violent punches on the Oscar winner of that year, John G. Avildsen’s ROCKY. Blaxploitation had nowhere else to go and so it is not surprising that same year to see the billing of Pamela Grier once more on screen as a tamed slave girl in DRUM (1976) the misshapen follow-up to MANDINGO (1975), loosing even the public’s attention to the scene stealing beauty of a young Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith.

But those crazy years of 1971-1975 burned Pam Grier in the popular consciousness, igniting a slow burning fire that would be once more revived in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 homage JACKIE BROWN. But that is an altogether different story…For now, just enjoy this trip down memory lane as we, here at HOUSE OF SIN, join Darius Whiteplume's DIRTY AND NERDY to hold a complete PAM GRIER WEEK, starting NOW!

1 comment:

Keith said...

Pam Grier is awesome. I love that woman. I've seen so many of her movies over the years. She's definitely an icon. She's one of my favorite female stars from the 1970's.