Friday, April 12, 2013

Dallas IFF 2013 Review - ICEBERG SLIM: A PORTRAIT OF A PIMP - Zed's Take

Directed by: Jorge Hinojosa 
Synopsis: Examines the tumultuous life of legendary Chicago pimp Iceberg Slim and how he reinvented himself from pimp to author of seven groundbreaking books.

To quote the great So-Cal pimpologist, Too Short, “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy”.

ICEBERG SLIM: A PORTRAIT OF A PIMP details the uneasy life of notorious pimp, Iceberg Slim (nee Robert Beck), probably the most famous pimp to ever enter the game. Rappers love invoking his name as they wax lyrically of their powers over women. According to some, pimping, in its truest form, happens to all of us. If you have ever been persuaded to do something you normally wouldn’t do, well, you’ve been pimped. But Iceberg was no pushy used car salesman talking you into buying a six year old lemon.

He was the pimp we saw romanticized in blaxploitation movies or satirized in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”. He had a stable of women in his “employ” who worked the track, 24/7, selling their bodies for money, and losing their soul in the process. Iceberg’s occupation was to serve as the Machiavellian master to these women, provide them "comfort", protection, and occasionally sex. For his services, he collected every dime earned and the right to put a boot in a woman’s back if she needed to be checked. But how did a man, raised by a single mother, become this version of a man? Could a man like this truly be redeemed? Director Jorge Hinojosa, along with Slim’s family members, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, and various professors attempted to answer that question.

Iceberg Slim, born in 1919, grew up in a riotous Chicago. It was a virtual Wild West, where organized crime was rampant and gangster mentality, the zeitgeist. In the black neighborhood, pimps were the local celebrities. Their depravity was bleached with free turkeys on Thanksgiving and presents on Christmas – black Robin Hoods. And you couldn’t miss them. Hinojosa uses old photos to illustrate 1940s pimps as they peacocked up and down the street, dressed in the finest suits, shoes polished, and sporting the hairstyle of a well to-do black man, the conk. This appealed to a young Slim, who wanted to be in on the action. As a child, Slim watched as his stepfather was cuckolded by his absentee mother. The image of the only man he ever trusted and loved was tainted. Watching him plead for Slim’s mother, who had taken up with another man, was one of the driving forces into the making of Iceberg. With no stability at home, Slim took the streets running numbers (the hood lottery), a popular game in those times. He had the uncanny ability to remember every purchaser’s numbers, without writing them down. During a brief jail stint (the first of many), Slim was schooled on the pimp game. Back in Chicago, he was taken under the wing of known pimp, Cadillac Baby Bell. From Cadillac’s tutelage, Iceberg Slim matriculated into one of the baddest pimps in Chicago.

Being king of the pimp game was akin to being king of Westeros in Game of Thrones. Competition was fierce. Everyone wanted to dethrone the great Iceberg Slim. The trials and tribulations of the game led to cocaine and heroine addiction. He finally hit bottom when he found himself in Leavenworth prison at the age of 26. The animation used to depict Slim's inner torture while in solitary confinement created a visceral experience for me. You could sense he was a man at the end of his rope. Upon his release, he left a changed man and vowed to go straight. Slim's first wife, Becky, was the instrument for his rebirth. He recited the stories of his past while she notated his words on a typewriter. His first book, Pimp: The Story of My Life was a smash. Never had anyone articulated the grittiness of pimp life with such prose. However, the book almost never made it to print because the pimp vernacular was unknown to his white publisher. This prompted a glossary of pimp terms to be added, and allowed the opportunity for crossover appeal. His literary works are what garnered the respect Chris Rock, who gifts Pimp to the cast and crew on all his films. Professors and historians often speak about Slim’s tumultuous relationship with his mother. Despite her disastrous parenting, Slim yearned for her acceptance, and it fueled his quest to be a legitimate success.

A major quibble I had was the diptic style picture cropping used during the Becky interviews.
It was a distracting, creative gimmick that failed to add a hint of value. That creativity should have been used on the film's score. You have this larger than life character as your centerpiece, yet Simone Sello and CunninLynguists flooded the film with monotonous tones and beats. Had Iceberg been alive, somebody would have gotten five fingers to the face for this melancholic soundtrack.

ICEBERG SLIM: A PORTAIT OF A PIMP does a fine job telling who Iceberg Slim was, but not enough on his redemption, if in fact, there was one. Snoop Dogg, Ice T, and Archibishop Don Magic Juan seemed to praise him solely for his contribution to the game, like they were giving "Pimp Hall of Fame" speeches on his behalf. Even during his days as a family man, Slim was rumored to have kept small stables of women for whoring purposes (though his daughters deny this). We are told that Slim went on speaking tours explaining the purpose of his books were not to romanticize pimp life, but to denigrate it. That could be true, but the cynic in me feels that all those who believe in a “reborn” Slim, might just be getting pimped. 
ICEBERG SLIM: A PORTRAIT OF A PIMP recently played at The Texas Theatre in Dallas, TX. It is currently available via iTunes.

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