Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Mack (Michael Campus, 1973)

I decided to watch The Mack for one reason only; Byron "Bullhorn" Minns (Black Dynamite) said it was his favorite Blaxploitation film. I have never been a fan of the pimp-centric, or pimp-hero, Blaxploitation sub-genre. I lean more towards Pam Grier's films, or those along the lines of Three the Hard Way. While I am not a huge fan of anti-heroes in general (they are as overplayed as zombies are these days), I really do not hold any fascination or love for pimps at all, finding them to be the lowest form of criminal. So, let's see how this one went.

First, this one looks to be a sequel, and some of the posters I found further cemented that notion, though I cannot find any other film with Max Julien (Goldie, our "hero") and Richard Pryor (Slim, his right hand) together. Maybe this is just a ploy by the studio? It does start with a flashback, where Goldie and Slim (then either drug dealers of gun-runners) are setup and Goldie goes to jail after instructing Slim to escape. Goldie does five years and returns to his old neighborhood where the real story starts. Goldie is instructed (?) by some ancient pimp sage that he will be the master pimp someday. It is never clear who this old guy is. Is he a pimp Yoda, or is he the guy who is really the master pimp, and too smart to make his position public? A sort of pimp Illuminati perhaps? Goldie moves up through the ranks with a rapidity that can only be achieved in cinema, which puts a target on his back.

Watching this, you cannot but notice its influence on subsequent generations of filmmakers, comedians, and notably hip-hop artists. Charlie Murphy's "Buc Nasty" from the Chapelle's Show Player Haters sketches is clearly "Pretty Tony" from The Mack (Dick Williams), and the pimp of the year segment in I'm Gonna Get You Sucka certainly draws on this film as well. The Player's Ball idea is all over hip-hop videos, particularly those from the '90s. Sadly, in hip-hop at least, the veiled positivity in the story either is missed or the artists are keeping the veil lowered. While Goldie becomes the master pimp, he is never untouchable, he grows increasingly sadistic, and eventually loses everything. We see the players and pimps in modern interpretations, but less of Goldie's brother, Olinga (Roger E. Mosley, Magnum PI). Olinga was a Black Nationalist who called for a "Black America within, but without, White America." To be fair, gansta rap and bling culture really put an end to Black Nationalism, so it obviously avoids such characters.

Overall, this was just short of being a very good movie. While no angel before prison, Goldie definitely takes a turn for the worse as his "pimp game" is expanded, and he loses a great deal of his humanity in the process. Julien is talented and certainly could have conveyed Goldie's descent more appropriately than the film allows. Sadly, his transformation is not expressed very well and he goes from well-meaning miscreant to utter bastard rather quickly. About the only troubled look we get from him is when childhood friend turned prostitute "Lulu" (Carol Speed, The Big Bird Cage, Disco Godfather) is robbed and nearly killed by a john and Goldie puts her back on the stroll. As she walks away we see that he is not happy with this treatment of her, but is compelled to "keep his pimp hand strong" as the young folks say.

Ultimately, if you are a Blaxploitation fan, you really have to see this movie as it is so much a part of the genre. You may not enjoy it much, but it is likely better than other pimp-based entries. Personally, I'd rather see Pam Grier blowing pimp's heads off than have them be the heroic focus, but you have to take what you can get in the genre some days. The Mack has its merits, but frankly falls short of its potential.

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