If there is any Seventies Blaxploitation Movie more morally conscious than "The Mack" it must have been secretly produced by Baptist Missionaries in an effort to promote abstinence in the ghetto. Aside from a lot of cuss words and a couple of nipples, this movie could have been an ABC Afterschool Special. I know that calling a movie an ABC Afterschool Special has gotten to be a popular putdown for any movie with a sunnier outlook than your average Italian Zombie epic, but it's still better than comparing it to CBS Afterschool Specials like "Syrianna" or anything directed by Oliver Stone. It's truly inspiring that a film as ethically upright as "The Mack" would be so popular with the Blaxploitation audience and it is a great reminder for today's filmmakers that is possible to make a movie full of violence, sex, and profanity but still teach that we should all listen to our Mothers and go to Church every Sunday.
"The Mack" is a movie about Pimps. Now, I have done a lot of crummy things in my life but if there is one thing that has never crossed my mind it is to be a Pimp. But then, I'm white and white pimps in movies are usually pathetic drug addicts who send their girlfriends out to get money for another fix and I'm so lame it never occurred to me to do that even when I was a pathetic drug addict. And when did I ever have a girlfriend anyway? White guys just do not grow up in an atmosphere in which Pimps are glamorized like other criminals such as Bank Robbers, Hit Men, and Serial Killers. I bet not even Ted Bundy fantasized about being a Pimp (Not that he would have been very successful - "Hey, Ted! I gotta complaint about that girl! She was just laying there like she was DEAD!").
"The Mack" began as a script entitled "Black Is Beautiful" which was written by a Black guy and based on his own life. Producer Harvey Bernhard didn't like that title which is certainly kind of corny but still a lot better than writing a script based on your life and using your own name as the title. Boy, that is the corniest! Uh oh! The phone is ringing! "Acid Logic! Yes, this John Saleeby, who is this? Oh, Antwone Fisher! Yes, I was making fun of you! Are you still standing? Well, get the fuck outta here!" Anyway, then Bernhard met an actor named Max Julien and decided he was perfect for the script which Julien rewrote with his friend Richard Pryor whom he'd met doing stand up in New York. Pryor is in the movie but, no - He does not come within a hundred miles of stealing the show from Julien. In fact, Julien is so good as Goldie, the film's lead, that you can't help but wonder why he never got to star in another movie. Turns out that he was so messed up on coke all through the production that one night he beat up the director and then broke in Bernhard's hotel room threatening to kill him. Oh, I'm sorry! Wait a minute, it was Richard Pryor who did all that. And yet he still got to be the Biggest Black Star In Hollywood . . . Hmmm . . . Julien, meanwhile, turns out to be an intelligent, philosophical guy who doesn't care about being famous or making a lot of money. Or as they call that kind of person in Hollywood - "Trouble".
"The Mack" was the first feature film directed by Michael Campus after a long career shooting documentaries in practically every country around the world. I think the Jack Black character in "King Kong" was based on him. Before filming began in Oakland, California, Campus was savvy enough to involve Frank Ward, the local Crime Boss, in the production (The film is dedicated to Ward, who was killed before it's completion. "Don't look at me!" said Richard Pryor). When Campus first met Ward the gangster dropped a huge bag of coke worth ten thousand dollars on the table just to see how White Boy would react. Struggling to conceal how scared he was, Campus snorted enough coke to convince Ward that he was "cool". I remember when I met Ward for an Acid Logic interview he dropped a gigantic bag of coke onto the table and I pulled out ten thousand dollars, bought the coke, flushed it down the toilet, and everybody in Oakland, California took turns sucking my cock, but that's another story. Once Ward put his seal of approval on "The Mack" the crew had access to locations the likes of which had never been seen by white eyes before - Nightclubs! Barbershops! Pool halls! "It was unbelievable! We went in there and black people were gathered around these strange tables covered with green felt and one hole in every corner and one hole on each side, hitting numbered balls of multiple hues into the holes by hitting them with the ends of long wooden sticks! Was I the first white man to witness a ritual dating back to the Pyramids of ancient Egypt?" Campus' experience as a documentary filmmaker enabled him to make the most of these locations, lending "The Mack" a realism which would have only been otherwise possible through "sets", "extras", and "production". The pimps, hos, bums, and junkies seen in the film are authentic pimps, hos, bums, and junkies doing their best for Campus under Frank Ward's close supervision -
"Awright, motherfuckers, we're goin' fo' spontaneity an' realism an' dat mis en scene reminiscent of the early Sixties French New Wave Cinema of Francois Truffuat an' dat Jean Luc Godard faggot, so ya'll don't be fuckin' up with lookin' at da camera or pullin' shit on da white boys in de crew!"
"But, Frank - You tol' me Godard's 'Band Of Outsiders' was a muhfuhin' breath o' muhfuhin' fresh air!"
"Shut the fuck up!"
Ward shoots the loudmouth.
"You get dat on film?"
"Damn, Campus! I thought you was a professional!"
One memorable sequence has Goldie and his sidekick Slim (Pryor) locking one of their enemies in the trunk of a car with a bunch of rats and taking him for a ride before dropping him off, covered with bites and clutching a dead rat, at the hospital. Somehow while setting up the shots for this Campus wound up locked in the trunk with all the rats. Were those shots of Julien casually driving around with a pleasant smile on his face while someone is screaming inside the trunk shot while Campus was locked up in the trunk? That's what happens when you're a white guy and you make a movie in Oakland, motherfucker! You can bet Campus was really on the alert when they shot the scene where a guy was tied up with a stick of dynamite stuck in his mouth. "Uh . . . I'll be back here with the tape recorder guy. Yeah, the sound is really important in this scene. Yeah. Do we have a hundred foot cable? Good."
But everybody's favorite scene in this movie is when Goldie and Slim are playing Craps with a Pimp named Pretty Tony (Played by the great Dick Williams) and an unbelievably beautiful hooker named China Doll interrupts to announce that she is dumping Tony to work for Goldie. Turns out that much of the dialogue in this scene has made it onto many a Gangsta Rap record, I don't much about that kind of thing. I think I remember Pretty Tony yelling "I'm gonna make you wish you never was born!!" on a Conor Oberst album. I'm not sure.
And then - WHAMMY!!! - Goldie's Mom gets killed!!! This is some Heavy Shit, cause Julien's Real Life Mother had been murdered right before he made this movie. I don't know the circumstances of his Mother's death. Maybe the deal to make "The Mack" originally belonged to another guy and when it was given to Julien that guy yelled "I'm gonna make you wish you never was born!!" But it turns out Pretty Tony DIDN'T kill Goldie's Mom, the two Bad White Cops killed her! So Goldie and Slim kill them and Slim sends a "Sorry We Killed Your Son" card to Pretty Tony's Mom.
"You didn't put anything in the note about us tying him up and putting a stick of dynamite in his mouth, did you?"
"Yeah, I thought it would be funny, why not?"
"Damn, Slim! No wonder your series on NBC won't work out!"
Was there something about being "moral conscious" at the beginning of this article? Not me! Cause MY very favorite thing in "The Mack" is Lulu, The Hooker With A Heart Of Gold, or a Sexy Dress With A Lot Of Red Sequins anyway. She's the cutest, prettiest, nicest, blackest girl you ever . . . I'm sorry, I mean she's the cutest, prettiest, nicest black girl you've ever seen. Lulu is played by the lovely and talented Carol Speed but you be careful how you talk about her - Carol Speed was FRANK WARD'S girl! Uh oh! Julien says Carol was a naive middle class girl and everybody was worried Ward was going to send her out on the street. That never happened but probably only because of Ward's death, which hit Carol so hard she had a nervous breakdown.
"A nervous breakdown? You got that on film?"
"Damn, Campus! I thought you was a professional!"
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org