Sunday, 22 November 2009
Jack Hill's 1973 avenger movie Coffy adds credence to the idea that you can reap a thematic windfall by substituting a woman into a typically masculine role. Pam Grier is Coffy, an emergency room nurse driven psychotic by the corruption of her much younger sister. Coffy opens with Grier playacting as a strung out trick, using her whiles to honey trap a local smack peddler. Registering her complaint with a sawn-off, Coffy drifts back to her life, never quite reconnecting with either her job or her politician sugar daddy. A brief dalliance with a childhood sweetheart turned cop arms Coffy with a paper trail of corruption that takes in pimps, the mob and even City Hall. Deciding her best weapon is her looks, Coffy poses as a prostitute, using her sexuality to get close to her intended targets.
Coffy drives the narrative, she's endlessly capable and on-the-fly calculating. Coffy works with a kind of mechanical disconnection for much of the duration, operating under the sincere deduction that men will put themselves in ruinous situations to posses her. She feigns the kind of fragile femininity typified in low-rent action flicks, then confounds that assumed weakness with improvised maximum violence. Naturally, this revenge is framed within the constraints of attention grabbing, cheapy cinema - you're never more than a couple of minutes away from a day player's torn blouse, or a feature disrobing from Grier. The film has its cake, and shotguns it. Hill and Grier play with the idea of belonging and women needing a place. Coffy has a comfortable, aspirational life, but a deeper underlying need for a social justice. This brings her into conflict with all the established facets of her life. The climax sees Coffy reject material comfort and standing to pursue her own desires, wandering off into the night rootless and damaged, but morally uncorrupted.