Pam Grier, the Foxy Siren of Blaxploitation, to be Honored at This Year’s St. Louis International Film Festival!
The one and only Pam Grier will be honored by Cinema St. Louis with a ‘Women in Film Award’ when she’s in town for this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival. Pam’s iconic movie career began when she moved to Los Angeles in the late ‘60s from her native North Carolina at age 18. After a tiny role in Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970), she landed a job as a receptionist for American International Pictures where she was discovered by Jack Hill, an AIP director who cast her in a pair of women’s prison films: THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971) and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972). Soon she was known as the “Queen of Blaxploitation” at a time when film roles for African-American women were, as Grier puts it, “practically invisible, or painfully stereotypical”.
SLIFF, which runs Nov. 2nd-12th will kick off with the world premiere of the dark comedy BAD GRANDMAS, directed by St. Louisan Srikant Chellappa and written by Chellappa and Jack Snyder, the team behind the St. Louis-lensed films FATAL CALL and GHOST IMAGE. Pam Grier stars in the film, which was shot across the river in Columbia, Illinois, alongside the late Florence Henderson (in her final role) as a pair of Grandmothers who accidentally kill a con man and have to act quickly when his partner shows up.
BAD GRANDMAS will screen at The Tivoli Theater (6350 Delmar, in ‘The Loop’) on Thursday November 2nd at 8pm. Tickets include a SLIFF opening night reception. Ticket information can be found HERE. Pam Grier, director/writer Srikant Chellappa, and two of the film’s co-stars, Sally Eaton and Jilanne Klaus, will all be in attendance.
Srikant Chellappa is a long-time fan of Pam Grier and wrote the part of Coralee with the actress in mind. “I had pictured her role as a man-hating bad ass, which is in some ways a version of her younger days in the Blaxploitation films”, said Chellappa. “She fits her part very nicely as someone who doesn’t make apologies for who she is and what men who cross her or her friends deserve”. Chellappa describes BAD GRANDMAS as “…a roller coaster ride of southern grandmas stuck in a bad situation and using their wits to get out of it. It is a movie that would be a laugh out loud dark comedy that does not take itself too seriously but leaves the audience gasping for more when it ends!”. Chellappa found Ms. Grier gracious and friendly to work with. “She would greet me every day with a Namaste!”, he said “She is a soul of the earth with no ego which we see a lot in working with Hollywood actors specially icons like her. We would chat a lot about her life and her prior films. We also spent a lot of time talking about Quentin Tarantino and what his style of directing was. We talked a lot about her relationships and loves in the past including with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and how it shaped her to be who she is. Everybody on the set loved her as she was really approachable and spent a lot of her time chatting with all the crew members.”
Then, Friday November 3rd at the Tivoli, Pam Grier will attend a screening of Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN at 8pm. This will be preceded by an on-stage, career-spanning interview and Q&A with Pam.
When JACKIE BROWN was released in 1997, expectations were off the charts. It had been three and a half long years since Quentin Tarantino had rocked the movie world with the one-two punch of RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) and PULP FICTION (1994). Tarantino had the clout to cast anyone he wanted for JACKIE BROWN (1997), the film he adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, and I’m sure most of Hollywood wanted to work with him, and he put together his usual imaginative ensemble of major players, 70’s comeback stars, and fresh blood. Pam Grier was the now-mature siren of Blaxploitation, the star of many wonderful 70’s urban classics such as COFFY (1973), BLACK MAMMA WHITE MAMMA (1973), FOXY BROWN (1974) and BUCKTOWN (1975). With her distinctive mega-fro, Grier was a statuesque, articulate ass-kicker in these films and Tarantino was a huge fan (she’s mentioned by name in his scripts for both RESERVOIR DOGS and TRUE ROMANCE). He’d originally considered Grier for PULP FICTION in the role ultimately played by Roseanne Arquette (which would have made her the mate of Eric Stoltz, an actor I can see Pam Grier breaking in half with two fingers), and changed the lead character in Leonard’s novel from a blonde Caucasian to an African-American in order to accommodate Grier (in the novel, her name is Jackie Burke. Tarantino renamed her Brown after her character from FOXY BROWN). Pam Grier was 48 when she starred in JACKIE BROWN (though her character claims to be 44) and she gives a strong world-weary performance, tough and believable especially when standing up to Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell Robey.
It’s been noted that JACKIE BROWN did not do for Grier’s career what PULP FICTION did for John Travolta but then, how many parts were there in Hollywood for black women pushing 50? Pam Grier did receive some choice roles after JACKIE BROWN including parts in John Carpenter’s GHOST OF MARS (2001), LARRY CROWNE (2011) as well as roles in the TV shows The L-Word and Smallville.
And look for a Top Ten Tuesday – The Best of Pam Grier article here at We Are Movie Geeks later this month.