The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Pam Grier (TV One’s ‘Unsung Hollywood’)

Fans of TV One’s documentary program Unsung, which shines the spotlight on performers whose mainstream profiles aren’t as substantial as they perhaps out to be, will be pleased to learn that the network is branching out with the series, expanding its coverage beyond the world of music and into the field of acting. Tonight marks the premiere episode of Unsung Hollywood, which kicks off with a look at the life and career of Pam Grier, and Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Grier and discuss the episode and how it came about while also chatting a bit about her career…but without giving away too much about the program, of course.

Pam Grier as Kit Photo: Max Vadukal/Showtime Photo ID: LW3_21D-05

Bullz-Eye: How did you find your way to Unsung Hollywood? Did they pitch you on the idea?

Pam Grier: I had turned them down several times, because I wasn’t interested, but then I saw one of their episodes. My mom was so enthralled by one of the shows they had done on musicians – they did an excellent job – and she said, “I didn’t know that!” And, of course, no one knows what inspired the music and the tenacity of people to get their music played and all that except for the musicians. So we talked, and they said what they were going to do, and I said, “Okay, but you know it’s very difficult to get photographs.” Because as I learned from doing my book (Foxy: My Life in Three Acts), you have to have the rights if someone owns the photographs, and if someone else is in it, you have to get the rights from those people.

I said, “I don’t know if I can do that, because you’re going to get maybe five pictures, because a lot of people do not want to participate.” So I said, “I don’t want to marginalize it, but I can only give you so much, and I don’t know when I can do it.” But they kind of gave me an outline, and I said, “Oh, I think we can do this…so I just have to find the time!” And I did. And I think they did an excellent job.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kelly Lynch (“Magic City”)

“Olga (Kurylenko) and I like to think we’re just as terrifying together as Ben Diamond and Ike, with their guns and their gangsters and all of that. We know that when two girls decide that they really aren’t fond of each other, it’s a whole other level of cat-fighting.”

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The Light from the TV Shows: Magic City is a Must-Buy

I really don’t have much of a clue who reads what around here—I mean, I’m just sayin’, but…we do have a comments section, you know—but if you happened to have caught my column from April 25, then you already know a little bit about how I felt about Starz’s “Magic City” when it first hit the airwaves. At the time I wrote about it, however, I’d only seen the first three episodes, so I couldn’t really offer much in the way on incisive commentary. Indeed, to save you from clicking on the above link, the bullet points of my brief discussion of the series were…

1. It looks great.

2. The second episode rehashed too much of the pilot, but the third episode was much better.

3. As far as the cast goes, Danny Huston makes a great bad-ass, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is in fine form as well, and although Alex Rocco’s storyline was a bit schmaltzy for my tastes, he’s still Alex Rocco, which means his scenes are worth seeing simply because he’s in them.

All things considered, it’s probably best that I hadn’t yet seen the fourth episode when I wrote about the series, since not only did it prove to be the most disappointing installment of the entire season, but it left such a bad taste in my mouth—I believe the precise phrase I used to describe the series at the time was “infuriatingly inconsistent”—that, if I’m to be honest, I could’ve flipped a coin to decide my thoughts on whether it was going to get better or worse in the coming weeks. Pretty much all of the good will it had built up in the preceding three weeks had been shot all to hell in the span of a single hour.

Thank God it got better. In fact, it got so much better that, now that Magic City: The Complete First Season has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, I have absolutely no hesitation about recommending it as a must-buy. I really can’t speak to what happened behind the scenes to turn the series around in such a dramatic fashion, but it was one of the most impressive TV turnarounds I’ve ever seen.

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Drugstore Cowboy

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989)

“Drugstore Cowboy” became director Gus Van Sant’s breakthrough film following its release in 1989. The film was critically acclaimed, ending up on both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s lists of the top ten films of the year. Today, its rating stands at 100 percent on the Tomatometer. Of course, aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes can be inaccurate for older films, but in this instance the site takes 27 reviews into account. Van Sant went on to receive Academy Award nominations for Best Director for his work on “Good Will Hunting” (1997) and “Milk” (2008).

But back to “Drugstore Cowboy.” The film stars Matt Dillon as Bob Hughes, the leader of a gang of drug addicts travelling the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s and doing just about anything to get a fix (generally of pharmaceutical opiates, for reasons that will become clear in a moment). Bob’s crew is made up of his wife, Dianne, who’s played by Kelly Lynch, his partner Rick (James Le Gros), and Rick’s new girlfriend, Nadine, who’s played by a 19 year-old Heather Graham. The cast also includes James Remar as Gentry, a police officer whose relationship with Bob is somewhat reminiscent of Ricky and Julian’s interactions with Park Supervisor Jim Lahey in “Trailer Park Boys” (which you know about if you’ve been keeping up with my “Hidden Netflix Gems“). And I can’t not mention that one of the film’s best scenes comes from a cameo by prominent author (and junkie) William S. Burroughs as Tom, a man who’s “shot a million dollars in his arm.” Oh, and who just so happens to be a priest.

The film is fantastic overall, but what really makes it special is its realistic portrayal of addicts and addiction. In no way does “Drugstore Cowboy” glorify drug use, but neither is it repentant in its frank depiction. “This is what it is, all of it,” the film seems to say, asking neither for your sympathy nor your approval, only your attention. “Drugstore Cowboy” delves into the minds and bodies of its addicted characters, examining what it feels like to need a fix as well as some of the underlying issues that might cause one to turn to drugs and the lifestyle that their use can (but does not necessarily) lead to in the first place. “Most people don’t know how they’re gonna feel from one moment to the next,” Bob explains, “but a dope fiend has a pretty good idea. All you gotta do is look at the labels on the little bottles.”

One thing that might not seem so realistic is the way Bob and his gang generally go about getting their fix: robbing pharmacies, hospitals, and hospital pharmacies. Then again, we’re looking at it from a 21st century perspective, with all the technological advancement that entails, whereas in the 70s it seems all you needed was a distraction and someone who could pick a lock. Another tally in the realism column comes from the fact that the film is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by James Fogle. I know what you’re thinking, there’s a reason it’s a semi-autobiographical novel, and even if it was non-fiction, it’d be easy for the author of such a book to lie, especially considering said book wasn’t even published until a year after the film was released. But then there’s this. It seems Fogle’s still at it. He was arrested in 2010 for attempting to, well, steal money and narcotics from a pharmacy in suburban Seattle. Yes, two thousand ten. It was a brilliant marketing campaign for a book/movie more than two decades old. Yeah, that or the man just needed a fix.

The crew keeps on keeping on, running around robbing and getting high for a while. But when tragedy strikes (that’s all I’ll say to avoid spoilers, watch the damn movie), Bob decides he wants to go straight. The time he spends trying to get clean and avoiding the traps of his former lifestyle make up some of the film’s best scenes.

Interspersed with all this darkness and addiction, “Drugstore Cowboy” does have more than its fair share of humorous moments. There’s Bob’s continuous torment of Officer Gentry (there’s a reason it reminded me of the comedic genius that is “Trailer Park Boys”), and of course the times Bob gets to discussing hexes. He’s a very superstitious man, this Bob Hughes. When Rick mentions dogs, he gets a scolding, and we (along with the character) learn from Bob that such a thing brings about a 30-day curse. When Rick tries to justify his statement by explaining that Bob had never told him not to mention dogs, Bob responds, “The reason nobody mentioned dogs, Rick, is that to mention the dog would have been a hex in itself.” And don’t even get him started on leaving hats on beds. That’s 15 years bad luck, maybe even death.

The film showcases brilliant direction from Van Sant, as well as a then 25 year-old Dillon in one of the best performances of his long career. When you find out what the tragedy is or why mentioning dogs is so awful, well, those scene really demonstrate both the actor and the film’s emotional range. As the movie runs its course you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat, laughing, and perhaps even empathizing with one of those “low-down lousy junkies” for a moment, even if you’ve never touched a beer or a joint, let alone a needle, in your life. “Drugstore Cowboy” brings to the table a gritty realism that is uncommon not just in films about drug use but in films, period. I can think of few better ways to spend 101 minutes on a Saturday evening than enjoying this breakthrough masterpiece.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman



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