Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp

Exec producer Ice-T nods to the roots of his rap persona with a doc profiling hip-hop icon Robert Beck.

The influence of Robert Beck's books is seen in everything from Ice-T's early records to Pimp My Ride, but director Jorge Hinojosa's Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp chooses not simply to celebrate an icon's seedy glamour but to examine who he was and what became of him. A large audience of hip-hop fans is assured, but newcomers also will find it involving.

Beck, whose 1969 memoir became an underground classic, was a Chicago native who spent two decades working as a pimp named Iceberg Slim. But he found the job's side effects -- drug addiction, prison time -- too much to take and retired. He and his first wife then turned his stockpile of colorful stories into the book Pimp: The Story of My Life.

Hinojosa talks to admirers ranging from celebrities -- Chris Rock gives the book as a wrap gift on his films -- to academics, including one tweedy white fellow who earns laughs when discussing Beck's dealings with "hos." The director works through an outline of Beck's life and career, illustrating stories with motion graphics constructed of old pulp-novel illustrations. (Fans of art photographer Thomas Allen, who does this sort of thing brilliantly, will wish he'd been recruited to help.)

Beck died in 1992 but filmed many interviews in his heyday; he's seen here as an eloquent character whose style faded only slightly with age. We also meet two ex-wives and three daughters whose perspectives on him range wildly.

Though Beck swore his tale was a cautionary one, it was told with such panache that generations of kids sought to emulate him. Ice-T, an exec producer on the film, recalls trying to use the book as a how-to guide in his teens. The attempt failed, leaving the rapper to find more socially acceptable forms of moneymaking. But it's hard not to wonder how many Iceberg Slim fans weren't so lucky.

Venue: Toronto Film Festival No rating, 88 minutes

comments powered by Disqus