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Shameful confession time: I’d never seen any of Pam Grier’s classic 1970s blaxploitation features until only a few weeks before making these pieces. Of course I’d seen Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to her, Jackie Brown, and had enjoyed the Roger Corman saucy Roman smackdown Arena on some cheap DVD I’d picked up, but somehow I’d always left Coffy, Foxy Brown, Friday Foster and the likes on my watchlist. Finally picking up Arrow Video’s typically excellent Blu-ray of Coffy, I was knocked on my, as the Americans say, ass by the full-bore majesty of this incredible actioner. The terrific, efficient direction of Jack Hill offers the perfect stage for Grier’s wonderful performance that runs the gamut from regal self-possession, through radiant sexiness, all the way to ruthless vengeful violence. A clear, vibrant, anti-establishment plot, a colourful cast of supporting characters (most notably Sid Haig as a reptilian gangster), and some magnificently messy scenes of squib-laden gun battles, automotive destruction, and drag-out catfights add up to one of the most satisfying film experiences I’d had in some time.
I was compelled to put together a poster – I wanted something simple, vintage-looking, and, for extremely obvious and undeniably prurient reasons, a design that would seek to honour just how incredible Pam Grier looked in this film. Veering away from the release poster designs which foregrounded Coffy’s powerful, shotgun-toting path of revenge, instead, I wanted to illustrate how the character weaponised her charms in order to lull her opponents into a false sense of security, before dispatching them with righteous fury.
Using simple screenshots from the streaming version of the film, I first identified the scene where Coffy seduces the absurdly-dressed pimp King George and pulled two related shots. I then figured I’d need to fill the remaining space with a selection of the bastards Coffy would spend the 90 minutes or so taking down – I cascaded them in a loose vertical structure, arranging them around the tagline which I had clipped from a hi-res scan of the release poster and simply cropped and dropped in place. The layout of these elements came from simple trial-and-error. I knew I wanted the poster to look almost like one of the newspaper ads rather than a full illustrated poster, so decided to include a thick black border and black bar at the bottom where I would place the title and a small amount of other information. I wanted to include only a few key elements – the production company, the producer and director, Pam Grier, and the MPAA rating. All elements, except for Pam Grier’s name, were cropped and image traced from original elements sourced online. I knew I would be able to keep these less than uniform, as I had planned to use a Photoshop action I’d downloaded from Spoon Graphics which I’d been dying to try on the right project – this created a realistic, black-shifted, aged, messy 4-colour ink process. However, it didn’t process the photographic elements very well – I lost almost all of the nuance in the faces. So, I decided to use this only for the black ink text elements and the black frame – I created a high contrast monotone black-only layer for the ink process, and the colours were created utilising a standard halftone filter in Photoshop on a separate layer of the combined final photographic montage, with all black pixels removed after the fact.
A final pass of textures, including a further aging on the black ink elements, and the addition of a nice paper texture, and we were all done! Well, with this one at least – I just had to do something for Jack Hill’s follow-up feature Foxy Brown.
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Foxy Brown‘s excellent, psychadelic opening credits inspired this colourful celebration of Pam Grier’s imcredible costumes throughout the film, again going undercover as a sexed-up and powerful woman who delves into the murky world of white drug dealers and pimps to exact brutal revenge.
Once I’d found reference pictures that covered the range of looks she sports throughout the runtime, and discarded those that didn’t meet the minimum requirements for clarity, these three images pretty much picked themselves. I’d originally envisioned full body images, like those scene in the credits dance sequence, but the majority were waist-up portraits, so that dictated the form. I wanted to have overlapping, colour coded stripes that would end with a single-colour image that would create a Grier-shaped end piece, before the next colour stripe took over. The credits scene involved 3 colours, so that’s what I wanted to do too – also, this meant I could play with the classic RGB 3 colour TV look, evoking the era, and using more than 3 images would have eradicated the long horizontal band that I wanted to form at least half, if not more, of the print.
Once I’d created my 3 images, I struggled with keeping the design as horizontal as I wanted. Shrinking the processed photographs meant losing clarity – some of this was intentional, to create a riso print starkness, but I still wanted the images to be legible and distinct. I also wanted the shirt to have a band of colour, rather than the chunkier, more maximalist designs I have created so far, so there was much push-and-pull in deciding how wide vs how tall to make the full shape. When the layout was finalised, I felt I had the balance roughly where I wanted it, but this taller band of red felt like wasted space. So, I pulled elements again from the release poster, bolstered others with typed text (the tagline is in a very nice font called Coolvetica), and used the image of Pam as a layer mask to create that end shape on the left, with the hair flick and insouciant hand-on-hip pose.
Hopefully these will serve as adequate tributes to, truly, one of the coolest screen presences I’ve belatedly discovered.