Thursday, 10 January 2019

Reflections on ... Friday Foster (1975)

Recently watched: Friday Foster (1975). Tagline: “Her name is Friday, but you can love her any day of the week!” An irresistibly trashy and lurid late entry in the seventies Blaxploitation genre, Friday Foster is no masterpiece, but it's vivid and wildly entertaining. 

In the action-packed but incomprehensible plot, glamorous, gutsy, fun-loving, fearless and intrepid ex-fashion model-turned-photojournalist titular heroine Friday Foster (Pam Grier) gets caught up in a complicated and impossible-to-follow narrative about an assassination attempt against the world’s wealthiest African-American magnate Blake Tarr. From there: something something … her fashion model best friend Cloris gets murdered … something something … the action keeps shuttling between Los Angeles and Washington … something something … an assassin who knows Friday know too much keeps trying to kill her … something something … Friday has an obligatory nude shower scene … something something  … Friday steals a hearse from Cloris’ funeral to evade her killer … something something … car chases and shoot-outs ensue … something something … a genuinely tense and suspenseful chase scene in an abandoned warehouse … something something … private detectives and political conspiracy theories … something something … political intrigue, murder and a conspiracy theory called “Black Widow” ... something something … helicopters!

But frankly, who cares when it’s this much fun? Friday Foster is never remotely boring, and I’d rather watch the buxom, stylish Pam Grier outwitting villains than tired old honky James Bond. On the plus side: the blistering funk soundtrack is sensational. (Of course, it instantly evokes not just Blaxploitation but the golden age of retro porn! On the addictive theme tune, the female chorus coos “Hey Friday watcha doin’? / Watcha doin’? Friday / Friday / Get it on! Do it!”). There are copious gratuitous glimpses of naked female boobage. All the male characters sport safari-style leisure wear with huge collars and flared trousers. The seventies cars, costumes and earth-toned décor are kitsch heaven. The low-life milieu of pimps and hookers is well-represented. Huge snifters of cognac signify the height of aspiration, sophistication and conspicuous consumption. Blake Tarr seduces Friday in a hot tub! I love that all the central characters are defiantly black and that everything is saturated in a Black Power message.

/ The height of sophistication: big fishbowl snifters of cognac /

/ Ladies and gentlemen ... Ms Eartha Kitt as "the magnificent Madame Rena!" / 

(An aside: Jim Backus (Gilligan's Island / Mr Magoo / Rebel without a Cause), Scatman Crothers and Ted Lange (Isaac from Love Boat) round out the truly bizarre cast!). 

(Another aside: Grier’s wardrobe is fiercely chic throughout. Check out the scarf emblazoned with “YVES ST LAURENT” in block letters to ensure you don’t miss she's wearing the high-end luxury label).

Leading lady majestic, statuesque and frequently-naked Grier was the supreme goddess / female superstar of Blaxploitation (her closest rival: Tamara Dobson in the Cleopatra Jones movies). As utterly magnetic as Grier is, for me she is comprehensively upstaged by scarily-intense veteran sex kitten extraordinaire Eartha Kitt in a fleeting “guest star” appearance as bitchy fashion designer Madame Rena. (The poolside fashion show segment is like an ultra-low rent version of Diana Ross’ Mahogany (1975)). By this time, temperamental chanteuse Kitt was 48-years old, long past her 1950s heyday and widely regarded as washed-up. In Friday Foster the diva is onscreen for maybe ten minutes and yet she wrings maximum dramatic impact from every second! Wearing a ratty wiglet, durable pro Kitt approaches the role as if she’s still playing Catwoman on TV’s Batman series and is gloriously campy and almost drag queen-like. SPOILER ALERT: wait until you see Kitt’s death scene!

/ Madame Rena on the topic of her arch rival, Ford Malotte /

Reflecting the prejudices of the time, Friday Foster is casually, outrageously homophobic. (The gay characters are treated as a freaky, titillating joke. As the kids today would say, Friday Foster is "problematic"). Madame Rena rages against her haute couture competitor Ford Malotte: “This plastic faggot couldn’t design a handkerchief, let alone a dress!” Eventually we catch up with Malotte himself – a stereotypical acid-tongued queen – surrounded by his entourage in a sleazy homosexual dive bar in Washington. (Positioned as unsympathetic, Malotte turns out to be a queer sexist who suggests Friday, "Go home. Get laid. Have a baby."). Yeah, the depiction is pretty hateful and cliched, but it’s also a fascinating snapshot of social history. And damn, that dank red-lit gay bar setting looks inviting!

/ Kudos to effervescent Todd Brandt of the essential Stirred, Straight Up with a Twist blog for pointing out to me that Ms Eartha’s enraged “teeth-gritting telephone scene” beautifully echoes Diana Ross’ telephone tantrum in Mahogany! And that “the sketch of what appears to be a 1950s Edith Head gown (pictured behind Kitt is) completely unlike any of the sleazy Qiana halter numbers from Madame Rena’s show!” /

Further reading:

Check out my reflections on Eartha Kitt's underrated, long-forgotten 1970 album Sentimental Eartha here.

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