Direc­tor of in­ner-city cult clas­sic ‘The Mack’

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By David Colker david.colker@la­times.com Twit­ter: @david­colker

It’s hard to im­age two films more dif­fer­ent than “The Mack” and “Thomas Kinkade’s Christ­mas Cottage.”

“The Mack” (1973) is a gritty, vi­o­lent tale of meanstreet Oak­land pimps, of­ten decked out in wild ’70s fash­ions, that has be­come a cult clas­sic. “Christ­mas Cottage” (2008) is a small-town, su­per-sen­ti­men­tal story about the painter whose on­ce­pop­u­lar works were masspro­duced and sold in sub­ur­ban malls.

But there is a com­mon thread. Both films were di­rected by Michael Cam­pus.

Cam­pus, 80, died May 15 at his home in En­cino. The cause was melanoma, said his wife, Arla Di­etz Cam­pus.

Even fans of hip-hop mu­sic who’ve not heard of “The Mack” have prob­a­bly heard snip­pets from its scenes. Dia­logue from the film was sam­pled in songs by Tu­pac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Lu­dacris, among many oth­ers. In ad­di­tion, the film was ref­er­enced by per­form­ers such as Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg and by film­maker Quentin Tarantino, who wrote it into his script for 1993’s “True Ro­mance.”

“Far from be­ing one of the many cliched blax­ploita­tion movies that only serve the pur­pose of his­tor­i­cal par­ody,” said USC pro­fes­sor Todd Boyd in a 1995 es­say for The Times, “‘The Mack’ is in fact a nar­ra­tive that com­bines the nu­ances of African Amer­i­can folk­lore with the am­bi­tion of Ho­ra­tio Al­ger.”

Cam­pus be­lieved that “The Mack,” which was shot on lo­ca­tion, has en­dured be­cause it strove to truly por­tray in­ner-city strug­gles.

“It was a slice, a frag­ment of life in Amer­ica at that time,” he said in the 2002 doc­u­men­tary “Mackin’ Ain’t Easy,” about the mak­ing of the movie. “I think the power of the film is the fact that we told the truth.”

Lines from “The Mack” — such as “You’re gonna have a bankroll so big, when you walk down the street it’s go­ing to look like your pock­ets got the mumps” — have lived long past the ini­tial, limited first-run of the film that starred Max Julien and Richard Pryor and was re­port­edly made on a bud­get of about $250,000.

Sev­eral years be­fore di­rect­ing “The Mack,” Cam­pus, the white son of a New York physi­cian, worked on tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­taries around the world, some­times in the midst of armed con­flicts.

“Doc­u­men­taries re­ally pre­pared me for ‘The Mack,’” Cam­pus said, “be­cause Oak­land was a bat­tle­ground and you had to be re­ally pre­pared for any­thing.”

Cam­pus was born March 28, 1935, in New York. He earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in jour­nal­ism from the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin, then served in the Army. In tele­vi­sion, he worked on films for ABC and CBS.

His first fea­ture as a direc­tor was the fu­tur­is­tic “Z.P.G.,” which led to his be­ing hired for “The Mack.” He spent two months in Oak­land be­fore the shoot be­gan, im­mers­ing him­self in the lo­cal scene.

The film­ing en­dured mul­ti­ple crises, in­clud­ing when a check given as a pay­off to the Black Pan­thers bounced. Soon there­after, the set was bom­barded from on high. “Bot­tles, glasses, any­thing you could throw comes rain­ing down from the roofs,” Cam­pus said. The cam­era was tem­po­rar­ily con­fis­cated be­cause the rental wasn’t paid, and Pryor — who some­times didn’t show up for film­ing — at one point punched Cam­pus so hard that the direc­tor al­most passed out.

“The fact that the film even got made is a mir­a­cle,” Cam­pus said.

“The Mack” was trashed by main­stream crit­ics when it opened, but au­di­ences in black neigh­bor­hoods em­braced it, and Cam­pus went on to di­rect an­other film with African Amer­i­can themes, “The Ed­u­ca­tion of Sonny Car­son.”

He di­rected sev­eral more films in the 1970s and then worked mostly in tele­vi­sion, over­see­ing spe­cials. Sev­eral film projects fell through over the years un­til a chance meet­ing in the mid-2000s at a restau­rant in Carmel.

“At the next ta­ble was a lovely cou­ple,” Arla Cam­pus said. “It was Tom Kinkade, and he was very in­ter­ested in Michael’s work.”

The Cam­puses, along with Kinkade and his wife, are listed as pro­duc­ers of “Christ­mas Cottage,” about a young Tom Kinkade mak­ing a paint­ing that helped save his mother’s home from fore­clo­sure.

Though “Christ­mas Cottage” had stel­lar ac­tors, in­clud­ing Peter O’Toole and Mar­cia Gay Harden, it went straight to video.

Af­ter that, Cam­pus looked to re­gain his street cred. Among the projects he was try­ing to get made dur­ing the last years of his life was a fea­ture about the film­ing of “The Mack.”

In ad­di­tion to his wife, he is sur­vived by his brother, Peter, a noted video artist in New York.

Robert Gabriel Los An­ge­les Times

TELE­VI­SION, FILM DIREC­TOR Michael Cam­pus, left, Soviet writer Alexander Gel­man and pro­ducer Derek Hart in 1990. Cam­pus also di­rected “Thomas Kinkade’s Christ­mas Cottage.”

PANNED BY CRIT­ICS A pro­mo­tional poster for “The Mack,” a gritty tale

of Oak­land pimps.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.