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[whitespace] 'American Pimp'
Hood Ornament: It's a man's, man's world in the new documentary 'American Pimp.'

Pimping Out

'American Pimp' documentary looks at the lives of street-level middle management

By Richard von Busack

IN A MORE FLASHILY DRESSED version of the typical sordid, sad sex-work documentary, American Pimp tells of an occupation much romanticized by pampered suburban brats.

Most of the comedy that directors Allen and Albert Hughes come up with consists of excerpts from the golden age of the pimp movie, especially the berserk Willie Dynamite (1974). Even the parodies of these mack movies end up in the mix: "The Attack of the Zombie Pimps" scene from Hollywood Shuffle, Antonio Fargas and his gold-fish-filled platforms in I'm Gonna Get You, Sucker.

Despite these snippets and despite the humor of the men who, enjoying a great deal of leisure, have a way with words, American Pimp shows us a vicious racket. The directors make as much a case as can be made for pimping by using a low ratio of real-life whores (four) to a lot of pimps (16), mostly retired, all bragging.

Their dynamic editing, faster in the first two-thirds than the last third, makes a compositional picture of one American night-town "from the Pineapple to the Big Apple"--from Honolulu to New York City. The moral of the story is that bitch-badgering is like any other middle-management job.

My mom, who was a saleswoman, not a ho, used to get leaned on by her boss to "sell one more." That kind of motivation, not so politely phrased, is what these knights of the street use on their cold, tired girls at four in the morning. We see them threatening the whores into netting in one more trick for the evening. Amusingly, when one pimp named Rosebudd goes legit, he manages a telephone-sales firm. It figures.

THESE PIMPS are full of admiration for their own "pimpology": "I don't steal nothing--don't steal nothing but a bitch's mind." "Bitch is more of a pet name," says C-Note, compared to what they might call their women if they were angry: "Funky, once-a-month-bleeding, dirty, lowdown bitch."

Some of the interviewees seem like men with vestiges of principle: Chicago's Bishop Don Magic Juan is good to his momma, and he gave up pimping to become a minister. Gorgeous Dre of New Orleans is either the slickest or the smartest of the interviewees, and he seems like the most significant waste of talent.

I don't think the Hughes brothers approve blindly of pimping: they do get their subjects to admit that, no, the girls don't get even a percentage of their money, and who knows what happens to them when they drop out of the "life": hospital, jail, graveyard or something.

Through its use of vintage film clips and interviews with old men, American Pimp gives the impression that pimping is more of a was-business than an is-business; sex-work is heading indoors through massage parlors and the Internet. A trip to Nevada's Moonlight Bunny Ranch in Nevada shows how a prostitute can have shelter and protection without the mind-theft characteristic of pimping.

The possibility of legalization in a business no one will ever stamp out--that's as much hope as American Pimp offers.

American Pimp (Unrated; 86 min.), a documentary by Albert and Allen Hughes, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the June 15-21, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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