Shout! Factory // 2004 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // August 11th, 2004
"You know what I'm sayin'?" -- Ken Red's constant refrain
The new century has seen a renaissance in the documentary form. Hollywood has taken notice, as documentaries that in earlier years would have been dumped unceremoniously on public television have gained national theatrical distribution, major news stories, and actual profits. Major Hollywood directors, including Spike Lee and Jonathan Demme, have turned in memorable efforts, and such documentarians as Michael Moore and Andrew Jarecki are becoming well-known personalities.
No film epitomizes this documentary renaissance more than American Pimp. When I wrote about this film back in 2001, I suggested that the material was a natural fit for Allen and Albert Hughes, directors of such urban crime dramas as Menace II Society and From Hell. In the years since the film's 1999 release, American Pimp has become a cult favorite. Easily accessible (it seems to turn up in the DVD section of every store I visit), it has become a rallying point for many different audiences. For conservatives, the film is a horror tale, a cautionary look at aspects of race and gender that should not be discussed in polite company. For liberals, the film exposes the dark side of the capitalist dream. And for teens, the film has become a manual for the hip-hop lifestyle.
Indeed, American Pimp has become almost too much for the Hughes Brothers. Hoping that the film would sum up the connection between blaxploitation movies and real African-American culture, the twin directors tried to break out of the "ghetto movie" ghetto with From Hell. But that film's middling success has seemed to stall their careers. Five years later, they have returned to American Pimp, with the help of Shout! Factory.
American Pimp: Raw Outtakes and the Hard Truth is decidedly not a repackaging of the original film, which is still available in an inexpensive edition from MGM. Consider this two-disc set merely a supplement, targeted to...
Well, that is exactly the problem. This set is only for hardcore fans of American Pimp. Disc One consists of 70 minutes of additional interview footage with some of the pimps featured in the original film. Ken Red rambles about how "pimps is born, not made." Payroll calls tricks "the lowest form of life," even below whores. When the Hughes Brothers ask Bradley if he respects women, he calmly replies that he does only if they respect themselves. But since his overall attitude is that his "bitches" need to be kept in their place, we wonder if Bradley has ever actually met a woman whom he feels has any self-respect.
All this reinforces our sense, garnered from the original feature, that these men are more frightening than romantic, in spite of what Hollywood might show. They perform constantly, with macho posturing that takes the form of vicious misogyny, a ruthless capitalist work ethic, and slick -- often witty -- showmanship. These interviews are minimally edited (even the clapboards are left in) and not glossed up with the funky music or flashy trappings that American Pimp had.
All of this might make you wonder, why did the Hughes Brothers release what is essentially a bunch of outtakes that should have been included on the original MGM disc? The answer is simple: Snoop Dogg. The centerpiece of Disc One, its raison d'être, is a long interview with the hip-hop star that was not used in the original film. Snoop adds little to the proceedings, other than some comments about how watching blaxploitation movies as a kid influenced his adult persona. But all through the interview, Snoop is seen dragging on a formidable blunt. Said blunt is doubtless the reason why this interview was left out of American Pimp in 1999, and I expect it is only available now because some statute of limitations has expired and a roomful of lawyers nodded their heads.
By itself, American Pimp: Raw Outtakes and the Hard Truth adds little to the original film, unless you are doing sociological research into urban crime culture. What justifies the price of admission, if anything, is the second disc: the soundtrack album. This CD soundtrack collects a baker's dozen tracks from '70s funk artists including Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, and War. These are interspersed with audio clips of pimps from the movie. I remember growing up listening to some of these songs, like "Skin Tight" by the Ohio Players, and having no idea what they were really about. Of course, there was not a lot of macking going on in North Miami Beach in the '70s. But this CD is great fun. Try chilling some Cristal and caviar and then go "bustin' out some serious funk," as the late Rick James (as we all know, a great respecter of women in his day) sings.
Shout! Factory might do better marketing the soundtrack CD as the primary item in this package, as an anthology of '70s funk accessible to audiences who have not seen the Hughes Brothers film -- and make the DVD the bonus item. This would appeal more to a broader audience, especially hip-hop fans who want to hear the genre's musical roots (and check out Snoop toking up). Otherwise, the distributors are only aiming at a very narrow group of American Pimp fans, who are somehow looking for more pimping advice.
But hey -- who doesn't want to be a mack daddy?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Original Soundtrack CD