“Coffy Baby, sweet as a chocolate bar”
These maybe the lyrics to ‘Coffy Baby’ by Roy Ayers and Dee Dee Bridgewater’s song released in 1973, but Coffy is anything but sweet in Jack Hills’ hard hitting Blaxploitation classic, starring Pam Grier as the iconic black female vigilante.
Coffy is hugely entertaining, birthing a number of genre classics such as Foxy Brown and Jackie Brown (Tarantino, 1997). Regarded as one of the seminal films of the genre along with Shaft (1971) and Super Fly (1972), Grier is formidable as Coffy, the sexy, gun toting, foul mouthed, working class warrior who uses her sexuality to infiltrate, dominate and destroy the system who took liberties with her sister.
Grier is nothing less than a femme fatale, using her sexuality to get close to these men before mercilessly killing them as she racks up an impressive death toll throughout the film’s 91 minutes. Grier’s screen presence is undeniable, her clear athleticism and acting prowess making her central role all the better. Coffy subverts the genre, placing Grier in an active role as she singlehandedly attempts to break the dope, prostitution, and political corruption ring that has taken over Los Angeles.
Nurse by day and assassin by night, like the lyrics “…no one knows who you are” very aptly describes Coffy’s character. She is a girl on a mission, the perfect mixture of strong, street smart, fearless, sexy and out-and-out vengeful as she puts herself in a number of risky situations in order to bring down this pervasive force. However, as she rises higher and higher in the criminal ranks, events get a little too close to home as even the good guys are not who they appear to be.
And then there is the nudity. Grier knows her best assets, her body becoming her chief weapon in gaining proximity to the criminal ranks in her quest for revenge as she poses as a prostitute, redefining what it meant to be a powerful black woman. Grier represented a new generation of black actresses who emerged on the big screen, a far sexier and smarter type of women. There are few that can surpass Grier in her progressive role here.
Grier’s supporting cast is formidable, bringing together some of cult’s cinema finest that includes Haig (who ultimately appears in several films with Grier) as bodyguard to mob king Vitorini. Coffy represents the Blaxploitation genre in overdrive, injected with surplus amounts of surreal violence and street realism as Coffy herself represents the shattered realism of the 60s in the face of racism, poverty and the drug-ridden world that she inhabits.
Coffy is a renegade who refuses to play by the rules. She is unstoppable as the film’s anti-heroine, defying convention by amalgamating a number of different male character type characteristics; the ultimate badass in the body of a model. More than anything, it is her short, sharp and witty farewell speeches that become the true allure of Hill’s film.
Similarly, the film boasts one of the best soundtracks of the 70’s, so well integrated into the film that it is unimaginable without it. Featuring a number of songs written by the great jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers, who blended funk with soul and modernist harmonies; for example “Coffy Is the Color”, “King George” and “Shining Symbol”, Coffy most definitely captures the musical zeitgeist of the time.
Coffy is the latest in a series of director-approved re-releases from Jack Hill featuring exhaustive audio commentary by its director (A Taste of Coffy), so you can enjoy Coffy all over again. Also featuring a never seen before interview with its lead actress (The Baddest Chick), rounding off with the original theatrical trailer and a gallery presenting new artwork complete with illustrated archive stills and posters, Coffy remains an enduring classic, redefining an entire era of cinema.
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark
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Coffy is out now on Blu-ray.