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Florida Film Fest review: ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP

April 4, 2013




Many of the best documentaries take a subject with which you’re either unfamiliar or uncomfortable and allow you to embrace it, if only for an hour and a half in the dark. That’s especially true with Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, a unique glimpse into the world of Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, a famous Chicago pimp of the 1930s and ’40s who somehow transformed himself into one of the most famous urban writers of his generation.

Directed by Jorge Hinojosa, this dynamic doc – one of the best of the festival – makes good use of animation, graphics and music to transport you to Beck’s gritty world, but it’s the interviews that make you want to stay. All the black-culture commentators you might expect are here, from Snoop Dogg to Quincy Jones to Chris Rock. However, it’s a complete unknown – Beck’s first wife, Betty – who steals the show. In a jaw-dropping, almost nauseatingly honest interview, she transforms the film into something part sad, part enlightening. Half-dressed, half-coherent and smoking her head off, she tells the real story of Iceberg as only she can. Add in some offbeat interviews with Beck’s daughters, and the story of a juicy figure in American literature gets even juicier.

Beck got his nickname from his reaction to a gunfight in a bar when he was young. High on cocaine, he sat motionless while a bullet whizzed through his hat, barely avoiding blasting his brains into his brewski. He was cool like a ’berg, and this doc is a fittingly hip tribute to that coolness, wit and intelligence.

As Beck said, “A lot of people think top pimps are dummies. That’s not true; they’re just perverted.”