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‘Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp’ – new documentary on ‘my ghastly life’

June 24, 2015

Review by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

“At the end of the day, there is only one game. It’s you either work for somebody or you have people work for you. Pimping is no different. If you break it down to the lowest level, it’s using your finesse and charisma to convince somebody to do what you want them to do,” says rapper and actor Ice T in the documentary, “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp.”

DVDs of the new Iceberg Slim documentary are available at http://www.icebergslimmovie.com/.

DVDs of the new Iceberg Slim documentary are available at http://www.icebergslimmovie.com/.

Iceberg Slim is one of the most insightful fiction writers to ever record the Black experience in the United States with a pen. His teachings have schooled generations of poverty-choked Black youth into the ways, psychology and economics of sexual capitalism, in what many have rightfully called the world’s oldest profession.

“Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp” is a documentary about the illustrious life of a pimp who metamorphosed into one of the most well known Black writers in this nation’s history.

In the opening lines of the documentary, “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp,” taken from his autobiography, “Pimp,” Iceberg Slim states: “In this book, I will take you the reader with me into the secret inner-world of the pimp. I will lay bare my life and thoughts as a pimp.

“The account of my brutality and cunning as a pimp will fill many of you with revulsion. I regret that it is impossible to recount all of my experiences as a pimp. Perhaps, my remorse for my ghastly life will diminish to the degree that within this one book, I have been allowed to purge myself.”

No matter how readers feel about the subject of pimping and prostitution, if you live in the Western world, you need to study the mind-state of it because it is pure capitalism, and that is the economic system and cultural values that envelope us. So after you understand it, you can take a position to either participate as a parasite, tolerate it or fight against it.

“Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp” is a documentary about the illustrious life of a pimp who metamorphosed into one of the most well known Black writers in this nation’s history.

“The first stages of my own street poisoning happened when I was a boy. My mother had a beauty shop and she catered to a colony of Black hookers and pimps, and these fellas would be decked out in all of their finery with all their diamonds, and of course their women. That was the first time that I was impressed, because you must remember back in those days, if you were Black, your opportunities were so narrow,” says Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck.

Robert Beck graduated from high school at age 15 in 1932, in the middle of the Depression.

After receiving a scholarship to go to Tuskegee, Beck said: “Immediately because I was already street poisoned, I started bootlegging on campus in Alabama, OK. So I got expelled. I was sent home. So my mother sat me down and her words of wisdom come back to me now. She said, ‘Bobby, apparently you like to run and associate with bad people, with street people.’ She said you could become a criminal lawyer, and make them pay you. She said, ‘Bobby, get your education and become a criminal lawyer and get a license to associate with the people that you admire and like so much.’ Now, have you heard anything more wise than that?”

“His books tell the truth about the life. There was no one more elegant than Iceberg Slim, or more poetic, or more accurate in terms of describing where he came from,” said the legendary actor and director Bill Duke in the documentary.

“I was in a bar, and there was a fellow arguing with another fellow. And this fellow drew a gun and divided the fellas, and the bullet went through my hat. I was full of cocaine at the time, and I didn’t react. So my friends said, ‘Man, you was so cool. You were ice.’ And they called me Iceberg Slim.”

Iceberg Slim’s autobiography is the source of the new documentary.

Iceberg Slim’s autobiography is the source of the new documentary.

“Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp” is not a film just about bravado, braggadocio and machismo. It is about Robert Beck, otherwise known as Iceberg Slim, also in more vulnerable times, spelling out to the world how his mind got “street-poisoned.”

The documentary talks about him being locked up numerous times for different offenses, including white slavery. It talks about his escape from Leavenworth. It talks about him being turned into a pimp by a former prostitute girlfriend named Pepper, who also turned him on to cocaine.

His widow also speaks in the documentary about how Beck’s recounting his life in words, in front of her, turned into the street tales that so many of us grew up on.

In one situation that the doc pulled from his early life, Beck describes being sexually molested by his babysitter. “I remember very vividly the moist odorous darkness and the bristled like hairs tickling my face, and most vividly I can remember a panic, when in the wild moment of her climax, she would savagely jerk my head even tighter into the hairy Maud.”

“His books tell the truth about the life. There was no one more elegant than Iceberg Slim, or more poetic, or more accurate in terms of describing where he came from,” said the legendary actor and director Bill Duke in the documentary.

The documentary also details how Beck’s mother betrayed the only man that he loved.

“I can never forget that morning when Mama had finished packing our clothes, and Henry lost his inner-fight, or his pride and dignity. He fell down on his knees and bawled like a scalded child pleading with Mama not to leave him.

“I will never forget her face, as cold as an executioner’s, which she was, as she kicked and struggled loose from him. Then with an awful grin on her face, she lied and said, ‘Henry, honey, I just want to get away for a while. Darling, we’ll be back,’” laments Iceberg Slim.

All of these extraordinary and wild happenings in Beck’s life created the writer that so many of us love to read and admire.

“I’ve had hundreds of women. I’ve never admitted to one that I ever had a problem or that anything worried me. And that’s the secret,” stated Iceberg Slim in this autobiographical documentary about his life.

“He said he was a psychopath. He said he got a thrill out of degrading women and hurting them, brutalizing them, keeping relentless psychological and physical pressure on them,” said Richard Milner, an anthropologist and author.

“Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp” is an important in-depth documentary that analyses the life of the father of the genre now known as street literature, writer Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck, who some would refer to as a demigod while others see him as a demon, from pimpin’ to fiction, through tragedy and triumph.

I would highly recommend this film to people who want to understand the mechanics of street life in Black America. I saw it first at the 2014 San Francisco Black Film Festival.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

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