Monday, 4 May 2015

Blu-ray Review: Coffy (Arrow Video)

For many filmgoers, their first encounter with Pam Grier came with Quentin Tarantino's 'Jackie Brown'. Here she plays a woman at the crossroads in her life, in what I still consider to be QT's finest film to date. It's a superb performance from Grier, and I hope it inspired thousands of people to seek out her previous work.
In 'Coffy' (1973) - directed by Jack Hill - Grier takes the role of nurse named Coffin who serves her community conscientiously, caring for the sick and injured. Coffy's younger sister Lubelle is hospitalized after taking contaminated smack aged 11, and we see her when Coffy takes her cop friend Carter (William Elliot) to visit. Carter has strong feelings for Coffy, who is currently dating Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw); a a runner for congress who as departed from the straight and narrow, becoming a villain you really will love to hate.
Throw in the outrageous 'King George' - an archetypal pimp played by Robert Doqui - and the loathsome Vitroni (Alan Arbus) and you have more than enough baddies to light the fuse in this solidly entertaining revenge movie.
Coffy embarks on a one woman crusade against the greed and human misery of the drugs trade, which has claimed and ruined countless lives. A blast to the face with a shotgun; cat fights with jealous bitches during an undercover stint and a final encounter with Brunswick combine to show Coffy to be a multi-layered character.She's a classic beauty, not afraid to use her looks and her body as a means to an end, very smart and when the chips are down, prepared to fight dirty against those who have always fought that way. She's no trained assassin either, using her street experience and improvisational skills to wage war on the industry that preyed on her little sister.

A word, too, for Sid Haig. His presence in a Jack Hill movie is always something to behold. Here, he plays Omar; a henchman who is always prepared to go above and beyond the call of duty while exhibiting a sadistic glee as he goes about his work.
There are actions scenes a plenty here, one on one combat sequences and some eminently quotable dialogue, with Roy Ayres score tearing it up in the background. There's also a certain charm to this picture and other Blaxploitation gems, as referred to by Jack Hill in his interview (more on that later).
The likes of 'Coffy', Foxy Brown' and 'Shaft' amongst others belong to a golden age of cinema revered by old school fans, from a generation where exploitation filmmaking was (almost) a respectable profession.

Arrow Video's Blu-ray presentation is a solid transfer with daylight scenes looking particularly strong. Interior scenes do vary but it's a good organic reproduction overall and impressive, considering it's a dated master.
Fans of this film will be delighted by the inclusion of a Jack Hill commentary track
Here, the director explains how Larry Gordon pitched the idea for 'Coffy' as revenge for losing the 'Cleopatra Jones' gig, and declares the titular character was written specifically for Pam Grier. Jack goes on to talk about racism inside and outside the industry; the fight to get his film an 'R' rating; why working a low budget tight production schedule can be a benefit and how a scene from 'Richard III' inspired the memorable finale in 'Coffy'. Jack is very generous in his praise for the actors, explaining how they helped him capture certain lifestyles to add to the knowledge he'd gained during his time as a musician working the clubs, and remains justifiably proud of his film which certainly delivers straight down the line.

'A Taste Of Coffy' (18m 49s) is a Jack Hill interview. It does contain some overlap with the commentary track, but it's good to actually see him telling some of those stories, which include his battles with AIP; a frightening audience reaction at a screening he attended and the way 'Coffy' connected with both black and white audiences.

'Pam Grier: The Baddest Chick In Town' is a 17m 38s interview with the great lady, where she reveals that certain aspcts of Coffy reminded her of her mother.
She remains proud of portraying a woman helping the community (in more ways than one), and has some nice memories of the film and also of a particularly painful onset accident.

'Blaxploitation' is a 28m 56s video essay from author Mikel J Koven that charts the history and development of the genre. Mikel explores the five early stereotypes of black characters; talks about social change, the Black Panther Party and political assassinations. There are clips from the revolutionary 'Sweet Sweetback's Badass Song', together with footage from 'Coffy'and 'Foxy Brown', and the role of music in these films is also discussed, with praise for artists who include Bobby Womack and Curtis Mayfield.
The decline of the genre, with safe films shifting the movement from 'R' to 'PG' is also examined. It's an excellent essay, and takes us nicely into a theatrical trailer and image gallery.
Arrow also includes a booklet featuring writing from Cullen Gallagher and Yvonne D. Sims.
Cullen's essay - 'Coffy' - takes a look at American International Pictures; changing conciousness in America; the dangerous women of film noir, and studies Grier's character, making some excellent observations.
Yvonne's essay - 'Pam Grier' - takes us through Pam's early years; her career in film and her television work, giving us many titles for further appreciation of this legend.
Arrow's Blu-ray is locked to Region B, mand availabel to buy now.

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