Review: Fascinating 'Iceberg Slim' chronicles a former pimp's life

According to the rich narrative laid out by the documentary "Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp," it's hard out there for a pimp, not to mention the life that leads to it, and after it.

One of black literature's most venerated chroniclers of street life and crime, the author of seven popular autobiographical books (most famously "Pimp: The Story of My Life"), Slim comes in for a vivid, warts-and-all biography as told by fellow writers (Emory Holmes, Odie Hawkins), admiring entertainers (the doc's executive producer Ice-T, Chris Rock), family members and college professors fascinated by hustlers.

Born in poorest early-20th century Chicago, Slim — born Robert Maupin, later Beck — was a product of home turmoil and sexual abuse that steered him toward criminality and especially the cruel psychology and controlling rush that marks pimping. But it was his ability, post-prison reformation, to wring knife-edged, vernacular-rich poetry out of the hard truths of his old world that earned him cultural acclaim in the '60s and '70s, and later cache with emerging rap genres.

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The movie is itself rough around the edges, notably in some chintzy attempts at animating pulp graphics. But it's briskly pieced together from interviews and archival footage, including snippets of Slim that easily hint at his authoritative, brooding magnetism.

Equally fascinating is the marked gender split in terms of talking heads, with the first half's breakdown of pimpology and Slim's criminal life from an enchanted all-male chorus, and the second half's tale of a reformed man adapting to domesticity and artistic expression told primarily by seen-it-all wives and daughters.

Robert Abele


"Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp"

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, some violent images, and language.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. 

Playing: At Cinefamily.


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