KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (16)
August 16, 2017
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973).
SHAFT | d. GORDON PARKS | 1971
I’m a black woman who has watched Shaft twice, both times with white male fans of the movie. There’s a lot to unpack there, and I have thought about it — but let’s leave it for another day.
I enjoy a good blaxploitation flick — I even co-host a podcast on the topic — but if you ask me, Shaft, a movie about a black private detective hired to rescue a Harlem gangster’s daughter from the Mafia — is just OK. While I understand the historical and cinematic significance of the movie, I prefer the ass-kicking of Pam Grier in Foxy Brown or Coffy, or the absolute insanity of Dolemite or Disco Godfather. That said, Richard Roundtree is fantastic as Shaft, a suave but also complex character who struggles with moral conflicts. Outlandish things may happen in Shaft, but when it comes to walking a tightrope between humane and ice-cold, Shaft acquits himself well.
It may feature a black squad against a white squad, but race doesn’t come up nearly as much in Shaft as it does in other blaxploitation movies. Still, there are a few notable moments. When Lt. Androzzi (Charles Cioffi) insists that everything isn’t about race, he simultaneously claims that he needs to head off the battle between Harlem gangster Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) and the Mafia because the optics would make it look like a race war. (Which, surprise, makes it about race!) Meanwhile, when asked why he wants to hire Shaft to retrieve his daughter, Bumpy readily admits it’s because Shaft knows white people. Ben Buford (Christopher St. John) calling Shaft a “Tom,” for getting involved in this rescue, should also be mentioned.
Despite my preference for Pam Grier movies, there’s a lot to be appreciated here. And not just Roundtree’s cool performance and the ass-kicking. Shaft’s girlfriend Ellie (Gwenn Mitchell) and the old woman whose scissors Ben uses to threaten Shaft are treated well. The way Bumpy’s sidekick says, “They picked my man Leroy up and threw him out the goddamn window” makes me laugh. (It sounded like he was mocking someone weeping and I know that wasn’t the intent.) The soundtrack music during a sex scene also makes me laugh: It’s like something that would play during a ’70s game show when the host announced the prizes… or like the music to which Mary Tyler Moore would toss her hat (or, I guess, her bra) up in the air.
Also, this freelancer can’t help wondering how Shaft invoiced Bumpy. He told Bumpy the fee was $50 per day, plus expenses — but at no point was he saving receipts, writing down expenses, or keeping a timesheet. Did he negotiate a flat fee with a stipend, off-camera? Or did he just make up an amount at the end? Who knows!
KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Alix Lambert on BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | Judith Zissman on ALPHAVILLE | Mark Kingwell on HARPER | Lynn Peril on BLOW-UP | Devin McKinney on SECONDS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Gordon Dahlquist on LE SAMOURAÏ | Alice Boone on LE CERCLE ROUGE | Brian Berger on COTTON COMES TO HARLEM | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | David Levine on THE FRENCH CONNECTION | Dan Fox on GET CARTER | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Brandi Brown on SHAFT | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY | Peter Doyle on THE GETAWAY | Sarah Weinman on HICKEY & BOGGS | Annie Nocenti on BADLANDS | Josh Glenn on CHARLEY VARRICK | Gary Groth on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE | Lisa Jane Persky on THE LONG GOODBYE | Mimi Lipson on MEAN STREETS | Sherri Wasserman on SOYLENT GREEN.
MORE MOVIES at HILOBROW: KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 25 neo-noirs of the Sixties (1964–1973) | James Parker’s BOURNE VARIATIONS series | Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE series | Jacob Mikanowski’s SCREEN TIME series | Josh Glenn’s SHOCKING BLOCKING series | Joanne McNeil’s ALL MY STARS series | MORE: including dozens of HILO HERO items on movie directors and actors.
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