Director: Jack Hill
Writers: Jack Hill
Cast: Pam Grier,Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, Sid Haig
Length: 91 min
Label: Arrow Films and Video
Release Date: April 20, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1
Audio: English: LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with Jack Hill
- A Taste of Coffy: Interview with Jack Hill
- The Baddest Chick in Town!: Interview with Pam Grier
- Blaxploitation!: A video essay by author Mikel J. Koven (Blaxploitation Film) on the history and development of the genre
- Image Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer
Blaxploitation cinema could require a primer course in and of itself. The genre’s stories and characters are both nuanced reflections of disenfranchised later-twentieth century African American life, as well as schlocky popcorn-fare, full of saturated colors, fantastical pimps and pushers, and gratuitous nudity. While not one of time period’s best offerings, Coffy certainly is emblematic of Blaxploitation’s influence on later generations’ filmmakers (The film is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite in the genre, and later casted its star, Pam Grier, in Jackie Brown). It also offers perhaps one of the best examples of the school of film’s rampant paradoxes: simultaneously progressive and reductive, critical and fetishistic, sleek and amateurish. While not an artistic achievement, Arrow Films’ new Blu-Ray release does a great job highlighting all of the movie’s offerings, and includes some interesting and contextualizing documentary special features.
Pam Grier’s Nurse “Coffy” Coffin is a wronged woman out for revenge against the Man, using her brains and body to exact a toll for the damage done to her sister, not to mention the larger community. Sounds familiar? Well, yeah, it is. Not much separates Coffy’s plot from the era’s multitude of other vengeance flicks. In this case, Coffy’s personal vendetta stems from her younger sibling’s debilitating smack addiction, a tragedy that could have been avoided if the corrupt city officials and drug peddlers hadn’t pushed their vices onto the inner city. Grier’s vigilante justice often resembles many superheroes of late: Razor blades and sharpened pins are hidden in her afro instead of a utility belt, predictably, if not entertainingly, coming in handy during the course of the movie. She tries valiantly to balance both her normal life with her night justice escapades, not to mention the two men vying for her love. She’s strong, she’s smart, she’s sexy, and, of course, she’s pissed.Again, the plot isn’t the strong point of the film. What makes Coffy so interesting is its contradictory elements. On the one hand, our protagonist needs no man in her quest for justice, but Jack Hill’s script often reduces her and numerous other women to scantily-clad sexpots, all seemingly in competition with each other for who can most creatively lose their tops (and, believe me, there are some very innovative contenders in Coffy). Drugs are a reprehensible blight on the city, but damn if the film doesn’t make its purveyors look cool. Robert DoQui’s take on pimp King George is particularly grandiose, not to mention a bespoke Sid Haig as the wonderfully despicable mob henchman, Omar. Coffy’s heart may be in the right place, but it’s a not a film that thinks with its heart…
Still, one has to give credit where credit’s due. Nurse Coffy is a relatively early role for Pam Grier, and while her acting isn’t quite up to snuff yet, it’s interesting to see just how easily she embodied the tough, independent woman character she’d soon become known for in her career. Nurse Coffy is still a radical departure from the majority of similar female depictions, and at no time in the film is she fooled by men’s machinations. Her strength comes in her perpetual underestimation, and she capitalizes on this repeatedly for our entertainment. Whether she’s fooling a pimp with her hilariously bad Jamaican accent or shotgunning her way through sleazy mobsters, it’s exemplary Blaxploitation, and it’s clear why these films resonated so much with their audiences. Just like any decent superhero story, it’s an escapist critique of a troubled culture faced with no easy solutions. Coffy can’t solve all the problems and injustices of a racist, misogynistic society, but she can do her part with a double-barrel and some serious sex appeal.
While much of what is represented on this Blu-Ray is a representation of the age and budget of the film, there is a bit of room for improvement. Arrow are generally reliable when it comes to HD transfers and this release is not necessarily an exception as much as it is one of their lesser works. Its nice to note that the grain has been left intact and that no digital effects such as sharpening or edge enhancement seem to have been utilized. This leaves a print that may be somewhat varied but is not off-putting. There are no real signs of damage or deterioration, save a few bits of dust here and there. All in all, if you are a stickler quality, perhaps keep an eye out for potential future releases, otherwise Arrow’s release shouldn’t be too big of a let down.
All that is available on this release is a single mono LPCM audio track, but it is still a fine example of the original aural elements. There are no signs of damage, or pops, hisses, or cracks. Again, it would have been nice had the option for a 5.1 remix been available, but the mono track gets the job done.
Arrow Films’ Blu-Ray release includes a couple fun extras, including two short interviews with star Pam Grier and director Jack Hill on the history and impact of the film. Jack Hill also returns with a great audio commentary for the film. All in all, with nearly an hour of material, it provides more than enough insight into Coffy and its pop cultural impact. The release also features the original theatrical trailer, which is a nice, little bonus.
So, is Coffy first-rate filmmaking? Of course not. But it does offer a fascinating, funny, and exciting entry into an important section of American cinema. Jack Hill’s movie delivers just about everything you’d expect for the genre, and while its message often misses the mark, it makes up for it in coolness…and Sid Haig. Arrow presents a more than adequate release, but it would have been nice to see a little bit more TLC paid towards restoring this classic.