I said last week in my piece on Coffy that Pam Grier isn't so much an actress as she is a force of nature, particularly during her 1970s heyday when she was headlining a series of successful star vehicles and kicking ass in all of them. And while Coffy may be the ultimate Pam Grier movie -- it remains her best, and she's at her best in it -- both 1974's Foxy Brown and 1975's Friday Foster offer audiences a chance to see different variations on Grier's persona with varying degrees of success. Both films are now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.
First up is Foxy Brown, which reteams Grier with Coffy writer/director Jack Hill to slightly lesser effect. She's once again on a one-woman revenge mission, this time infiltrating the sex slave trade instead of the drug industry. When her boyfriend is murdered, Foxy traces the crime to a modeling agency fronting for a prostitution ring and works her way in, killing bad guys left and right on her way to getting justice.
Still, a movie in which Pam Grier picks up a razorblades with her tongue is more than worth seeing. She is just as tough and badass in Foxy Brown (and possibly even sexier, as though that's even possible). She's also put through the ringer a lot more, beaten and tortured and raped. And though her revenge is brutal and more than earned, there's something troubling about what happens to her in this movie that I can't quite put my finger on. Sexual violence plays such a part in so many of these '70s exploitation movies, so perhaps it's only fair that Foxy be expected to roll in the mud, too. I just prefer to see Pam Grier standing above it all. She's not the one who gets raped; she's the one who kills the rapists. She's the one who calls the shots and who is in charge of her body. Others do not take her against her will or violate her. Of course it's a trope (for lack of a better word) in a lot of these revenge movies, but it's a trope I can live without. Especially when Pam Grier is involved.
Friday Foster is a fascinating movie -- a cross between Brenda Starr and a Jack Hill blaxploitation movie. It comes by this honestly, as it's based on a syndicated comic strip by Jim Lawrence (the first to feature an African American woman as its lead character). I haven't read the comic, so I can't say with any certainty that it wasn't as edgy as the movie...though because it ran in newspapers in the early '70s, I suspect it was fairly tame. The movie could easily have been a PG-rated pop mystery and been fine, but co-writer/director Arthur Marks piles on the exploitation movie elements: lots of violence, lots of nudity and salty language. It's a super weird mix, so squeaky clean that the edgy stuff feels out of place but then edgy enough that the safe commerciality feels like a mistake. It's a bizarre alchemy that I enjoy more each time I revisit the movie.
Still, it's fun to see her play a new kind of character and a reminder that she was once a great movie star, one who could have had a huge career outside of exploitation films if Hollywood hadn't been so intimidated by her spirit, her toughness, her impossible sexuality. If nothing else, Friday Foster is a ton of fun just to watch the incredible lineup of talent that Marks assembled -- it's as though he cast every single great African American character actor from the '70s and put them in one movie. Besides Grier and Kotto, there's Eartha Kitt, Carl Weathers, Ted Lange, Scatman Crothers, Godfrey Cambridge, Paul Benjamin, Thalmus Rasulala (Blacula) and Jason Bernard. Even Jim Backus shows up. Every few minutes we get a familiar and welcome face.
Foxy Brown and Friday Foster hit Blu-ray the same day as Coffy, which means you can have a Pam Grier triple feature for #Junesploitation Icons or Blaxploitation day. The discs both look great -- how can they not with Pam Grier in HD? -- and Foxy Brown even gets a lossless 5.1 surround mix. While it's a bummer that there are no special features (Hill's commentary for Foxy Brown is noticeably absent), it's a trade I'm willing to make to finally own the movies in proper 16x9 widescreen. This is the way Pam Grier is meant to be seen. Well...almost. She's really meant to be seen on the big screen. No TV can contain her. At least these Blu-rays come close.
Foxy Brown Blu-ray release date: June 9, 2015
DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Friday Foster Blu-ray release date: June 9, 2015
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)