Shaft (1971 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gordon Parks|
|Produced by||Joel Freeman|
|Screenplay by||Ernest Tidyman
John D. F. Black
by Ernest Tidyman
|Music by||Isaac Hayes
J. J. Johnson
|Editing by||Hugh A. Robertson|
Warner Bros. (DVD)
|Running time||100 minutes|
|Box office||$13 million|
Shaft is a 1971 American "blaxploitation" film directed by Gordon Parks, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. An action film with elements of film noir, Shaft tells the story of a black private detective, John Shaft, who travels through Harlem and to the Italian mob neighborhoods in order to find the missing daughter of a black mobster. It stars Richard Roundtree as Shaft, Moses Gunn as Bumpy Jonas, Drew Bundini Brown as Willy, Charles Cioffi as Lt. Vic Androzzi, Christopher St. John as Ben Buford, and Gwenn Mitchell and Lawrence Pressman in smaller roles. The movie was adapted by Ernest Tidyman and John D. F. Black from Tidyman's 1970 novel of the same name.
The Shaft soundtrack album, recorded by Isaac Hayes, was also a success, winning a Grammy Award for Best Original Score; the "Theme from Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and has appeared on multiple Top 100 lists, including AFI's 100 Years…100 Songs.
Widely considered a prime example of the blaxploitation genre, Shaft was selected in 2000 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2011)|
Shaft, a private detective, emerges from the New York City subway and walks through Times Square, with scenes characterizing early 1970s New York. Shaft visits a shoeshine parlor, and is informed that some gangsters are looking for him. Police Lt. Vic Androzzi meets Shaft outside the parlor and unsuccessfully tries to get information from him on the two gangsters. After Androzzi leaves, Shaft spots one of the men waiting for him in his office building. He commandeers the first gangster, forcing him into his office where the second gangster is waiting. After a quick fight, Shaft throws one of them out the window, while the other surrenders and reveals to him that Bumpy, the leader of an uptown gang, wanted to meet Shaft and knock him out at his office.
At the police station, Shaft lies to Lt. Androzzi and his superior about the fight, by saying that his friend was in an "accident". He is allowed to return to the streets for 48 hours. Shaft arranges a meeting with Bumpy, the leader of these gangsters, in his office. It turns out Bumpy's daughter has been kidnapped, and Shaft is asked to enable her safe return. Shaft starts his investigation by looking for a man named Ben Buford, who is revealed to have been part of "the movement" with Shaft years ago, and eventually finds out that Ben's group is holding a meeting. Shaft then returns home to his girlfriend where they make love.
The evening of the meeting, Shaft is tailed by a fingerman to the meeting, where an ambush ensues. Shaft and Ben escape from the carnage but Ben's group and the fingerman are murdered by unknown assailants. Ben confronts Shaft, thinking he was set up, but they refrain from fighting and move on.
Shaft is told by Vic after the shooting that Shaft himself. and not Ben, was the target, and that tensions brewing between the "uptown" hoods belonging to Bumpy Jonas and the "downtown" Mafiosi have culminated in a couple of murders. Vic states it's "hood against hood" by those who know, but the perception is black against white to the general public, with the possibility of an escalation into full-blown race war on the streets of the city. He also shows Shaft some pictures of two of the Mafia men who just arrived in New York. Vic begs Shaft to explain what's going on, though Vic already knew Bumpy was looking for Shaft.
Shaft and Ben later meet Bumpy at his uptown office where Shaft ups the price for the job, based on his newfound information from Vic. Bumpy states that the reason for turning him on to Ben is because Shaft is going to need an army to get his daughter back, and "Ben's got one".
Shaft retires to the "No Name Bar", across the street from Shaft's apartment in Greenwich Village. In the bar, he notices two men there who resemble pictures shown him by Vic of the Mafiosi watching Shaft's apartment. Shaft takes over the bar from the bartender and calls the cops without the knowledge of the two Mafiosi. As the cops arrive to arrest the two men, one of them spits in Shaft's face. Shaft responds by breaking a bottle of scotch over the man's head.
After spending the night with one of the women from the bar, Shaft visits Vic and the two Mafiosi the following morning. When Shaft returns home, he wakes the woman up, and as she leaves his place, she complains about his rotten manners out of bed, leading to a brief verbal spat.
A few seconds after the woman leaves, Vic comes in echoing the woman's spat to Shaft. Vic tells Shaft that the room that he was in at the station house was bugged and he is supposed to bring him in for questioning, but instead leaves. Ben and Shaft go to the apartment where Marcy Jonas is being held to make sure she's alive. Once there, a gunfight ensues during which two hoods get killed and Shaft takes a bullet in the shoulder.
Shaft goes home and receives medical attention from a doctor working underground with him (Shaft refuses to go to any hospital because the hospital will notify police about his gunshot wound.) Shaft tells Ben to round up his men and meet him at the hotel where Marcy has been taken, to prepare to get her back. He also calls Bumpy to tell him his daughter is fine and he is going to need some taxicabs to meet him at the hotel for the getaway.
Shaft's plan resembles a military commando-style operation. Ben's men all dress as hotel workers (cooks, waiters, elevator operators, etc.) to avoid arousing suspicion. Shaft and one of Ben's men go to the roof and prepare to enter the room where Marcy is being held captive. Shaft's plan is to cause a distraction with an explosive thrown through the window of Marcy's room while Ben and his men come down the hall and deal with the Mafia men as they leave their rooms.
The rescue plan is successful. Marcy is spirited out of the hotel into one of the waiting taxicabs. As the others get away in the remaining cabs, Shaft walks to a phone booth to call Vic. Shaft tells him his "case just busted wide open", to which Vic responds that Shaft should close it for him. Shaft tells Vic that he won't, declaring, "I guess you're gonna have to close it yourself ... shitty!" (referring to the earlier spat with his one-night stand when Shaft asks the woman to close the door on the way out, a remark Vic overheard and teases him about), howling in mocking laughter and walking away as the closing credits roll.
According to Melvin Van Peebles, the original production was of a white detective story. After the success of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, however, the original script was scrapped in favor of an adaptation of Ernest Tidyman's 1970 novel Shaft, which focused on a black detective. However, production of Shaft had begun in January 1971, well before the release of Van Peebles' film, with Roundtree's casting in the title role widely reported. As early as January 5, 1971, The New York Times reported that the film's 10-week shooting schedule was about to begin, that Roundtree would play the title role, and that Tidyman's book formed the basis for the film.
Tidyman, who is white, was an editor at The New York Times prior to becoming a novelist. He sold the movie rights to Shaft by showing the galley proofs to the studio (the novel had not yet been published). Tidyman was honored by the NAACP for his work on the Shaft movies and books.
Box office performance
The film was one of only three profitable movies that year for MGM, grossing what Time magazine called an "astonishing" $13 million on a budget of $500,000. It not only spawned several years of "blaxploitation" action films, it earned enough money to save then-struggling MGM from bankruptcy.
Shaft was well received by film critics and is considered by many as one of the best films of 1971. It currently holds a 90% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
In July 1971, Time magazine called the film a "window-rattling thriller" that's a "fast-moving pleasure" despite "a few too many racial jokes." Roger Ebert gave the film 2½ stars (of a possible four), mentioning issues he had with Parks' direction but pointing out the film "savors the private-eye genre, and takes special delight in wringing new twists out of the traditional relationship between the private eye and the boys down at homicide." In a March 2001 BBCi retrospective, Michael Thomson noted "[t]he film was hammered at the time for not being a full exposé of the black urban experience, and for being just a black version of a '40s Hollywood gumshoe thriller, yet Shaft certainly has a black sensibility ... and, even now, it seems radical to have a movie in which almost all the actors are black. However, the film's violence, to which many objected at the time, will not cause much shock-horror in today's audiences. The attraction to them will be the stylish conversation and attitudes, as well as Richard Roundtree, who lends Shaft the right amount of charisma, swagger and untouchability."
Awards and other honors
Isaac Hayes won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for "Theme from Shaft". In 2004, the song was named the 38th greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute. Hayes also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, the Grammy for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture and was nominated for the Original Dramatic Score Oscar, as well as the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. The film's score was also selected as a possible candidate for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. Richard Roundtree was nominated for the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer (Male), and he also received an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award for his portrayal in the Shaft Trilogy. The character John Shaft was considered a possible candidate for AFI's 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains. The film itself was also a candidate for AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills.
In 2000, Shaft was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2003, Shaft was chosen as one of The 1000 Best Movies Ever Made by The New York Times.
The soundtrack album for Shaft was released as a double album by Stax Records' Enterprise label. The album consists mostly of instrumentals composed by Isaac Hayes, though three vocal selections are included: "Soulsville", "Do Your Thing", and "Theme from Shaft". The soundtrack became Hayes' best-known work, and the best-selling LP ever released on a Stax label.
The soundtrack was a commercial and critical success (see awards section above). The "Theme from Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 44th Academy Awards and appeared on the Cashbox Top 100 number-one singles, Billboard's Hot 100 number-one singles, and RPM's number-one singles in Canada. According to the American Film Institute, the theme is 38th on AFI's 100 Years…100 Songs list.
In 2000, a new film, Shaft, was made featuring Samuel L. Jackson in the title role. Jackson plays the nephew of Richard Roundtree's character; Roundtree returns as John Shaft, still a private eye, trying to get his nephew to join him.
Pop culture references
Television references are numerous. On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Shaft is the idol of the fictional Will Smith, and several episodes[specify] make references to the film. In one episode Will denies that Shaft is a fictional character and claims he is real, parodying how young children deny that the cartoon characters they love are not real. "The Wedding Show (Psyche!)", a fifth season episode, includes a Shaft-themed wedding for Will and his fiancee, Lisa. In The Simpsons episode One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish, Bart and Lisa sing Isaac Hayes' theme song to the film at a karaoke bar.
In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of Mitchell, Joel and the robots perform a variation of Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" theme during that film's opening credits. In Good Eats, Alton Brown performs a parody of the film's theme song about puff pastry. In the final Father Ted episode "Going to America," the song is played by an elated Ted, perking up a depressive priest in the process.
It was noted by Quentin Tarantino during the 2012 Comic-Con panel that Broomhilda von Shaft and Django Freeman from his movie Django Unchained are intended as the great-great-great-great grandparents of John Shaft, from the Shaft movie series.
- "Show Business: Black Market". Time. April 10, 1972. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
- "Baadasssss is back!". The Observer. 5 June 2005. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
- "Filming of Shaft on in New York". The Calgary Herald. Jan 27, 1971.
- "Roundtree plays detective". Toledo Blade. March 28, 1971.
- "First 1971 Movie Is Ready to Shoot: Times Square Scenes for 'Shaft' Set for Monday". The New York Times. January 5, 1971.
- "The Greatest Films of 1971". AMC Filmsite.org. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
- "The Best Movies of 1971 by Rank". Films101.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "The Best Movies of 1971". Super70s.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "Most Popular Feature Films Released in 1971". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "Shaft Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "Cinema: Summer Coolers". Time. July 26, 1971. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
- Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1971 [sic]). "Shaft". Chicago Sun-Times.
- Thomson, Michael (6 March 2001). "Shaft (1971)". BBCi. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
- "Shaft: Award Wins and Nominations". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs". AFI.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Official Ballot". AFI.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "The 50 Greatest Heroes and the 50 Greatest Villains of All Time: The 400 Nominated Characters". AFI.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "America's Most Heart-Pounding Movies: The 400 Nominated Films". AFI.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "African American Films in the National Film Registry". BlackClassicMovies.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "Shaft Among 25 Films Picked By Library Of Congress For 2000 National Film Preservation Registry". HighBeam.com. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- Bowman, Rob (1997). Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records. New York: Schirmer Books. pp. 229–233. ISBN 0-8256-7284-8.
- "The Simpsons: One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish Movie Connections". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
- "‘Django Unchained’ A ‘Shaft’ Prequel? So Says Quentin Tarantino: Comic-Con". Deadline Hollywood. July 14, 2012. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
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