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Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp | Review

Bad Influence: Godfather Of Modern Hustle Still Leaving Back Handed Impressions

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp PosterLeaving a legacy of pimp ideology behind, the legendary pimp and author Iceberg Slim wrote numerous culturally influential books that showed the underbelly of urban society with a raw authenticity and conversational style that continues to shape life on the streets to this day. Jorge Hinojosa’s directorial debut, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, draws on his hip hop managerial roots to seek insight into Slim’s significance in not only rap culture, but the literary and comedy worlds as well, all the while delving deep into his widely unknown upbringing through family discussions and a few rare interviews with the legend himself.

Slim, born Robert Lee Maupin and later changed to Robert Beck, grew up during the Great Depression in a broken home with less than dazzling career prospects, but thanks to his own empowered charm he came to know the local pimps, admiring their seemingly effortless charisma, stylish cloths and flashy cars. He wanted in, and with the connections he had made, he managed to become a fully fledged pimp in his early twenties, managing a rotating stable of women through a careful balance of allure and intimidation. Slim’s downfall and unforeseen turnaround came with a series of arrests that led him to a lengthy stay in solitary confinement. It was here that Iceberg Slim realized his power over the English language through the written word. After marrying for the first time and taking a job as an exterminator, his wife convinced him to write down all the stories of his past he would recount to her nightly, and his first published work, the seminal Pimp: The Story of My Life, was released by Holloway House and went on to sell millions of copies world wide, changing the public image of the pimp forever.

Hinojosa’s biography manages to paint a startling portrait. Despite committing a portion of his life to the degradation of dozens of women, Beck seems a very likable, highly intelligent presence, beloved by his family and spoken highly of by not only rappers like Ice-T and Snoop Dog that grew up on the iconography of his legend, but respected African American authors and literary scholars in equal measure. Sorting through fact and fiction, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp unveils the true identity of a man mythologized by his own widely read bibliography, but it does so with the occasional bio-doc visual cliché and under-thought hip hop tracks that make up the underlying audio bed. Flaws and all, the film sets the record straight and allows Slim himself to confess that his tales are ones of warning, not how-to guides, and for that alone it is a story worth watching.

Reviewed on September 7th at the 2012 Toronto Int. Film Festival – TIFF Docs Programme.
90 mins.

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