I will go out on a limb and suggest that there isn’t a more universally beloved figure to all of us here on Daily Grindhouse than the legendary Pam Grier. I mean, who else comes close? Clint Eastwood, possibly. John Carpenter, probably. But none of them are as pretty. And none are as important to history. This site is all about the love of movies, particularly genre movies, and who could we possibly love more than the first (and best) female action hero?
Pam Grier is fierce. Pam Grier is smart. Pam Grier is RIGHT. She’s sexy, funny, direct, assertive, feminine, and ferocious. She has a boldness, an assertiveness, an unabashed voluptuousness, that remains unique and still refreshing in American lead actresses. Pam Grier is history in motion. She’s all the best things about America, and she stands against the worst of them. What she brought to movies is something rare and combustible, and apparently intangible. We still need Pam Grier, because there is no one else like her, and because there is no one else like her, we still need her. She really is one of the great movie stars of all time.
The Film Society Of Lincoln Center has smartly decided to pay tribute to Pam Grier and her singular career in movies during this upcoming March. Many of her films will be shown, and she will be present to answer questions for a select few of them.
The following is a quick rundown of everything that will be playing in New York that weekend. I’ve seen all but one of these movies, many more times than once, so I can guarantee you that, even without the added incentive of hearing Ms. Grier talk about them in person, this schedule is worth clearing all your other plans away for.
THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) is a Roger Corman/ Cirio Santiago production filmed in the Philippines, a true-blue exploitation movie that pairs Pam with Sid Haig as a revolutionary named Django >>wink<< who decides to liberate a womens’ prison.
BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973) is not too different a prospect, although Sid Haig has more of a supporting role and Pam is instead paired with the very blond Margaret Markov in a blatant riff on Stanley Kramer’s THE DEFIANT ONES. Jonathan Demme worked on the script.
SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973) sets Pam’s voodoo priestess against William Marshall’s title character. As always, but even more than usual, Pam is the main point of interest.
COFFY (1973), directed by BIG BIRD CAGE’s Jack Hill, finally puts Pam front and center as the solo lead. Coffy is a nurse out to introduce heartless drug dealers to pain. This is not only an incredibly entertaining film, but also one that is interesting for how it puts sex and violence so close together — most American films keep the two very much separate. Of course COFFY has its dated elements, but there is a rocky morality to the movie that makes it very compelling still.
FOXY BROWN (1974) is Pam’s follow-up to the success of COFFY, again with Jack Hill. Pam plays an avenging angel in a ridiculously entertaining series of events, with the level of violence arguably higher this time around. COFFY is probably a bit better, but missing either one would be a silly idea.
SHEBA, BABY (1975) isn’t quite as lurid or piquant as the Jack Hill pictures, but it has in common with them Pam’s uncompromising presence and also adds one of her most likable love interests, Austin Stoker from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. He’s great because he really demonstrates how Pam’s love interests are best when they take the kind of secondary role which women would have to take in any other action movie. Pam tears through these movies like a tigress through toilet paper — she dominates the screen and if you plan to co-star, dude, you’d either better bring your A-game or be willing to roll with her lead.
P.S. I was given a hamster for Christmas and, in tribute, I named her Sheba Shayne Hamsterton. She’s sweet but she bites sometimes. This is relevant.
BUCKTOWN (1975) has a guy with a hell of an A-game, Fred Williamson, the rare charisma-bomb who blows up screens the way Pam does. Arthur Marks of DETROIT 9000 fame directs, so the movie is as fun as you expect, but it definitely favors Fred’s character. It’s clearly written as a Fred Williamson movie, not a Pam Grier movie. Narratively, Pam is relegated to playing the support again, the girlfriend role, though there’s no repressing that screen presence. You want to see more of her. BUCKTOWN also has a memorable turn by the excellently-named Thalmus Rasulala, and an early role for Carl Weathers.
GREASED LIGHTNING (1977) is the one I haven’t seen, but it stars Richard Pryor — who is also currently the beneficiary of a film-series tribute here in New York — so it’s got my interest. If you want to spot me at the film series for whatever reason, this is your best bet.
ABOVE THE LAW (1988) is an early Steven Seagal vehicle — one of the better ones, being screened here because Pam plays his detective partner. (Note: That’s actually a picture of Pam from FORT APACHE: THE BRONX. Just liked it.)
ESCAPE FROM LA (1996) is the first movie which saw Pam working in a John Carpenter movie, something like a dream for many of us. She isn’t in the movie long, but her role is a massive stretch, since she’s playing a man. Carjack Malone was an old buddy of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken who is now a post-op transexual who, well, looks like Pam Grier. It’s something of a friendly joke to have one of the most womanly women ever playing a man, but it’s not her style to make a mockery of anyone, so she plays the role with as much reality as anyone in the movie (it’s one of Carpenter’s most cartoony efforts overall).
JACKIE BROWN (1997) is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to Pam Grier and to Elmore Leonard, who wrote the book Rum Punch and influenced so much of Quentin’s work. The Jackie character in the book is much different. Casting Pam Grier changes things. She brings that One of many things that’s special about this movie is that Pam isn’t asked to play a shitkicking superhero — she’s smarter and sexier than anyone else but this time she’s much closer to an actual person you could meet. She gets to slow down and show her range. Her scenes with the great Robert Forster are intoxicating verbal dances between a couple of pros who have been around the block a few times onscreen. Both actors are national treasures, and JACKIE BROWN gave them the showcase they deserve. Pam hasn’t made all that many movies since, and certainly none that made as much of a cultural impact, which is a shame for us. Hopefully that’s because she chooses not to work as often, and that she’s enjoying her offscreen life, because it would be a legitimate crime if no other A-list filmmaker has even attempted to utilize one of the greatest-ever. Don’t deprive us, Hollywood.
Here’s what I wrote about Pam and 1972’s HIT MAN for DG: [CLICK HERE!] That’s one of the few films not featured at Lincoln Center in March, but you can read a complete list in the official press release below.
Here’s more from the press release:
The Film Society of Lincoln Center announces FOXY, THE COMPLETE PAM GRIER March 15-17
In-person at THE BIG BIRD CAGE; COFFY; GREASED LIGHTNING; JACKIE BROWN; SHEBA, BABY and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM
New York, NY, February 12, 2013? The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced details today for the upcoming film series, Foxy, The Complete Pam Grier (March 15-17). Screening at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street) and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 West 65th Street), and highlighted by the attendance of Grier at several screenings, the film series includes such fan favorites and notable classics as THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972), COFFY (1973), ESCAPE FROM LA (1996), FOXY BROWN (1974), and GREASED LIGHTNING (1977), as well as JACKIE BROWN (1997) featuring her Golden Globe and SAG Award nominated performance in the title role.
Programing Associate Josh Strauss said, “An icon and fiercely spirited screen presence who was the feminine face of urban cinema in the 70s, Pam Grier inspired that genre’s mainstream success. She has continued to serve as a muse and inspiration for many filmmakers since, culminating in her critically lauded turn in Quentin Tarantino’s classic noir, JACKIE BROWN. It will be a thrill to offer a comprehensive look at her work as well as have Pam herself, at Film Society to talk about and reflect upon many of those films and her experiences making them.”
Born on May 26, 1949 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and raised in Denver, Colorado, Pam Grier was spotted by an agent at a beauty contest in Colorado Springs, who invited her to come to Hollywood and try her hand at acting. She subsequently moved to Los Angeles and began taking acting classes while she worked as a switchboard operator for American International Pictures. Soon after, she had made it onto the big screen in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970) and BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971).
Following appearances in HIT MAN (1972) and BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973), Grier gained notice in Jack Hill’s COFFY (1973) as the title character, “the baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town”. The next year, she cemented her status as the undisputed queen of urban cinema as the high-class prostitute out for revenge in Hill’s FOXY BROWN (1974).
Grier solidified her status as a film star throughout the 70s with a string of films including SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973), SHEBA, BABY (1975), BUCKTOWN (1975) with Fred Williamson, FRIDAY FOSTER (1975), and GREASED LIGHTNING (1977) opposite Richard Pryor. The 80s were highlighted by FORT APACHE, THE BRONX (1981) with Paul Newman, the Ray Bradbury classic, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983), and the Steven Seagal actioner ABOVE THE LAW (1988), as well as regular turns on the television via Michael Mann’s “Crime Story” and “Miami Vice”.
Grier continued to work in both film and television throughout the 90s with memorable appearances in John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM LA (1996) and Tim Burton’s MARS ATTACKS (1996). However, it was Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN (1997) that offered the actress an opportunity to play a character tailor-made for her unique brand of strength and charisma, resulting in the best critical notices of her career as well as her first Best Actress nominations for both a SAG Award and the Golden Globes. Roles in the thriller IN TOO DEEP (1999) and Jane Campion’s HOLY SMOKE (1999) immediately followed, as well as a reunion with Carpenter on his film GHOSTS OF MARS (2001). Grier became a very familiar sight on television as well, with appearances on several series culminating in a regular stints on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2002-2003) and Showtime’s “The L Word” (2004-2009). On the big screen, Grier has most recently been seen in Tom Hanks’s LARRY CROWNE (2011) and Rza’s THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012).
Tickets will be on sale both at the box office and on www.FilmLinc.com on Thursday, February 28. Tickets are $13 for General Public, $9 for Student/Senior and $8 for Film Society Members. All screenings will take place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam). Visit www.FilmLinc.com for additional information.
Films, Descriptions and Schedule
ABOVE THE LAW (1988) 99min Director: Andrew Davis Country: USA Detective and martial arts pro Nico (Steven Seagal) and his new partner, the soon-to-leave-the-force Delores “Jacks” Jackson (Grier), investigate a Chicago drug ring. They persist even after being told to back off by their superiors, putting themselves and Nico’s family at risk. March 16 at 4:45pm
THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) 88min Director: Jack Hill Country: USA A buxom bad girl named Blossom (Grier) is the rough-and-ready girlfriend of a radical guerrilla leader named Django. But when Django’s mercenary friends itch for some female companionship, they devise a plan to liberate the inmates of a local women’s prison. With the help of another new inmate, Blossom and Django go up against a tyrannical warden to stage an explosive breakout. March 15 at 6:00pm
BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973) 87min Director: Eddie Romero Country: USA Modeled after THE DEFIANT ONES and giving birth to the highly successful AIP women-in-film genre, Grier and Margaret Markov play two escapees from a Manila prison. Disguised as nuns, they encounter dangerous situations under the brutal tropical sun. Jonathan Demme co-wrote the script. March 15 at 2:00pm
BUCKTOWN (1975) 94min Director: Arthur Marks Country: USA Duke (Fred Williamson) and girlfriend Aretha (Grier) travel to Duke’s brother’s funeral. Problems start after they decide to reopen the dead man’s nightclub. Duke calls in his group of strong men to take on the corrupt local police department who are attempting to shake the couple down for money. March 17 at 2:00pm
Clips and Conversation Pam Grier will take the stage to discuss her storied career, illustrated by clips from some of her most audacious and unforgettable performances. **At the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center March 17 at 4:30pm
COFFY (1973) 91min Director: Jack Hill Country: USA Nurse “Coffy” Coffin (Grier) takes decisive revenge when her younger sister gets hooked on drugs and put in a rehabilitation home—a victim of the drug underworld, mob bosses and chain of violence that exists in her city. Vigilante style, Coffy takes on the LA thugs responsible for her sister’s downfall, posing as an African American bombshell in need of a fix. March 16 at 9:30pm
ESCAPE FROM LA (1996) 101min Director: John Carpenter Country: USA In the sequel to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, a catastrophic earthquake hits Los Angeles, causing the valley to flood and turning a portion of California from Malibu to Anaheim into an island. Now deemed the city of sin, anyone who does not fit the mold of LA’s outspoken Christian theocrat president are imprisoned on the island for good. After being captured again for another series of crimes, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russell) embarks on a violent, beat-the-clock escapade. A big screen must-see for John Carpenter fans full of great LA clichés. March 17 at 8:00pm
FOXY BROWN (1974) 94min Director: Jack Hill Country: USA When her government-agent boyfriend is shot down by members of a drug syndicate, Foxy Brown (Grier) seeks revenge. She links her boyfriend’s murderers to a “modeling agency” run by Steve Elias and Miss Katherine. Foxy decides to pose as a prostitute to infiltrate the company, and helps save a fellow black woman from a life of drugs and sexual exploitation. March 15 at 4:00pm March 17 at 6:00pm
GREASED LIGHTNING (1977) 96min Director: Michael Schultz Country: USA Loosely based on the life story of Wendell Scott, the first African American stock car racing champ, this seldom seen comedy stars Richard Pryor as Scott, who hones his craft transporting moonshine in the backwoods of Virginia. Grier and Beau Bridges co-star. March 16 at 7:00pm
JACKIE BROWN (1997) 154min Director: Quentin Tarantino Country: USA Flight Attendant Jackie Brown (Grier) smuggles money from Mexico to the United States for Ordell Robbie, a black market gunrunner, under the A.T.F’s close watch. This rollercoaster ride of twists, turns, comedy, drama, and action is brought to life by a stunning cast that includes Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Bridget Fonda, and Michael Keaton. Grier was nominated for 15 awards for her performance in this modern classic. March 15 at 8:15pm
SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM (1973) 96min Director: Bob Kelljan Country: USA Following the wild success of BLACULA, AIP financed the release of this sequel with classically trained actor William Marshall reprising his role as vampire Prince Mamuwalde. Mamuwalde is resurrected by the vengeful son of a dying voodoo queen, angry at being passed over in favor of the queen’s adopted apprentice Lisa Fortier (Grier). The prince recruits Lisa to make him mortal using voodoo magic, but the plan goes awry when her boyfriend’s life is put in jeopardy. **At the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center March 15 at 11:59pm
SHEBA, BABY (1975) 90min Director: William Girdler Country: USA In her last role as part of her three-film deal with American International Pictures, Grier’s Sheba returns to her hometown of Louisville, KY to confront thugs who are trying to intimidate her father into dissolving or handing over his family business. March 17 at 4:00pm
Public Screening Schedule
Screening Venue: The Film Society of Lincoln Center – Walter Reade Theater 165 West 65 Street, between Broadway & Amsterdam (upper level)
Friday, March 15 2:00PM BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (87min) 4:00PM FOXY BROWN (94min) 6:00PM THE BIG BIRD CAGE (88min) *Pam Grier in attendance 8:15PM JACKIE BROWN (154min) *Pam Grier in attendance 11:59PM SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (96min) *Pam Grier in attendance **at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
Saturday, March 16 4:45PM ABOVE THE LAW (99min) 7:00PM GREASED LIGHTNING (96min) *Pam Grier in attendance. 9:30PM COFFY (91min) *Pam Grier in attendance
Sunday, March 17 2:00PM BUCKTOWN (94min) 4:00PM SHEBA, BABY (90min) *Pam Grier in attendance 4:30PM Clips and Conversation *Pam Grier in attendance ** at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center 6:00PM FOXY BROWN (94min) 8:00PM ESCAPE FROM LA (101min)
FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER Founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, under the leadership of Rose Kuo, Executive Director, and Robert Koehler, Year Round Program Director, works to recognize and support new directors, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility and understanding of film. Among its yearly programming of film festivals, film series and special events, the Film Society presents two film festivals in particular that annually attract global attention: the New York Film Festival, led by Program Director Kent Jones, which just celebrated its 50th edition, and New Directors/New Films which, since its founding in 1972, has been produced in collaboration with MoMA. The Film Society also publishes the award-winning Film Comment Magazine, and for over three decades has given an annual award—now named “The Chaplin Award”—to a major figure in world cinema. Past recipients of this award include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Sidney Poitier. The Film Society presents its year-round calendar of programming, panels, lectures, educational and transmedia programs and specialty film releases at the famous Walter Reade Theater and the new state-of-the-art Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
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