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To the Player's Ball and Beyond. Right On. : The '70s film 'The Mack' has an avid cult following that includes many top rappers and cinephiles such as Quentin Tarantino. Goldie was right about his legacy.

October 01, 1995|Todd Boyd | Todd Boyd is a professor of critical studies at the USC School of Cinema-Television

Envision for a moment a key scene in the cult hit film "The Mack." We are in a rather generic Oakland barbershop, circa 1973, surrounded by nattily dressed gentlemen of leisure, who are adorned in the haute couture of Elaganza, the Jean-Paul Gaultier of the ghetto, purchased from that citadel of sartorial excellence, Flagg Brothers, which offers styles even Barney's cannot compete with. The gentlemen in question are either sporting an Afro or getting a touch-up on their meticulous process as they exchange wisdom on the ever-evolving nature of their profession.

An aspiring MVP (most valuable pimp) by the name of Pretty Tony, a '70s version of Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, explains to all in earshot the strategies that he uses to maintain morale among his employees.

"You know, man, all bitches are the same, just like my ho's. I keep 'em broke--wake up one morning wit some money in their pockets, they subject to go crazy. I keep 'em looking good, fly, and all that, but no dough. When I get a bitch, I got a bitch." To which his dutiful apprentice, Bob, appropriately co-signs, "Right on."

Much like any corporate CEOs would discuss their daily business endeavors, Pretty Tony and the other entrepreneurs are interested in maximizing their profits in a rather unstable market. Frank Ward, the pimping game's equivalent to infomercial king Tony Robbins, explains his seniority in the game: "I work mine from Frisco to Maine. It's all about the money game with me," leaving no doubt as to his embrace of the corporate bottom line. With this, we cut to Goldie, an aspiring pimp and the star of the film, who seems to be taking it all in as though attending a graduate seminar on "Pimping 101: The Ethics of the Game."

Later on, after Goldie has graduated to running his own stable, he shows that success has not spoiled him as he displays his benevolent nature to several disadvantaged youth. Dressed in a costume reminiscent of Robin Hood, he begins passing out money in a manner Mother Teresa would applaud. Clearly the Robin Hood-like attire is more than coincidental.

These memorable scenes define the quest for pimping's Holy Grail as pursued by Goldie in one of the most significant, though seldom-seen cinematic gems of the 1970s. "The Mack"--the title of which is a derivative of the French word for pimp, maquereau-- has not only lingered, it has built a huge following of devotees, especially among rappers like Too Short, who samples its dialogue, and cinephiles like Quentin Tarantino, who create homages on-screen, despite the fact that the video is officially out of print.

'The Mack," along with other blaxploitation films of the period--including "Willie Dynamite" and "The Candy Tangerine Man"--were cinematic excursions into the world of pimps, players and prostitutes.

Yet it is "The Mack," which will play Oct. 14 as part of the Nuart's blaxploitation festival, that has remained prominent over the years, gaining at least as much cult-like significance among black audiences as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" has had on mainstream culture.

Not that the film is any brilliant example of filmmaking. "The Mack" is so bad, on so many levels, that it turns out to be good in a perverse sort of way.

"The Mack" follows the rise and fall of an aspiring young pimp, Goldie, played by Max Julien, who is intent on being, in his own words, the "meanest mack that ever lived." As the film begins we witness Goldie, a petty criminal, on his way to an excruciating jail term that nearly breaks his spirit. Once paroled, he seeks the wisdom of the film's guru, the omnipotent Blind Man, who suggests that Goldie raise his criminal game to a higher level.

The Blind Man makes the link between the mack life and corporate America by telling Goldie that "pimping is big business," and demands that it be treated as such. Goldie promises to "rewrite the macking game book," and, much like Caine in "Kung Fu," follows the advice of his teacher. Eventually he reaches the apex of his professional life and is awarded the coveted Mack of the Year trophy at the Academy Awards for pimps, the Player's Ball.

Yet Goldie's climb to the upper echelon of the game has its downside. Goldie is constantly being pursued by adversaries: his pimping rival, the silver-tongued Pretty Tony; two racist white cops, and a menacing underworld boss, the Fat Man, whom Goldie, in one of the film's many nonsensical but humorous passages, describes as a "vicious-ass piece of jelly." Goldie is also in direct opposition to his black nationalist-minded brother, who has begun kidnaping pimps and drug dealers off the streets as a way of bettering the community.

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