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Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp

Posted by martinteller on December 12, 2013

20 years ago, when I was working at a certain local liberal arts college, there was a guy who would come to the campus every couple of months and sell paperbacks for a buck each.  I did a lot more reading in those days (before I had a computer) and so I’d always pick up a handful.  One of those was Pimp, an autobiography by Robert Beck a.k.a. Iceberg Slim.  It told of his troublesome youth and subsequent career as a pimp on the streets of Chicago.  Although the prose was a little unpolished (or perhaps overpolished) it was a compelling read, a brutal and harrowing look into a world we rarely see (except in highly fictionalized versions).  I went on to read Trick Baby and I think either Mama Black Widow or Long White Con (it was 20 years ago, give me a break for not remembering).

For this documentary, director Jorge Hinojosa wisely spends only the first half hour or so going over Beck’s pre-literary life.  It essentially is a Cliff Notes version of his book, with little that sounded like new information to me… but it would certainly be essential to any viewer who hadn’t read his work.  The rest of the film covers Beck’s rehabilitation, marriage and parenthood, his rise as an author and his frustrated dealings with his publishing company.  Interviewees include members of his family, literary scholars, and influenced celebs like Ice T, Snoop Dogg/Lion and Chris Rock.  Actor/director Bill Duke is particularly insightful about Beck’s work and its significance.

Even though Beck’s brutality as a pimp is touched on, the tone is still a little too fawning and forgiving.  There is always a question of how much you can or should separate an artist’s personal life from his work (Woody Allen, Roman Polanski) but in this case it’s more troublesome because the work is so personal.  Beck profited off his stories of abusing and manipulating women, and despite whatever good intentions he might have had, people used his autobiography as a guidebook for succeeding at the pimping game.  The film also raises the possibility that he took up pimping again after getting published (one of his daughters vehemently denies it, but the other two are quite certain).  Again, this appears to be glossed over.

Still, it’s a reasonably informative movie for anyone with an interest in the author.  The pacing seems a little erratic and sometimes the music is mixed too loud to hear the interviewees, but otherwise it’s a slick and competent film.  Ultimately I think his books tell a more riveting story, but there’s enough here to satisfy fans or intrigue the curious.  Rating: Good (73)


2 Responses to “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp”

  1. JamDenTel said

    You should definitely check out the film version of Trick Baby. Very underappreciated little film.

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