Shaft (1971)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Shaft</strong> (1971)

(On Cable TV, December 2018) My expectations may have been a bit too high for the original Shaft. The film, in the popular imagination, has become a bit of a Blaxploitation landmark, buoyed by its famous title song and Richard Roundtree’s untouchable status as an icon. Shaft remains one of the best-known Blaxploitation film, which acted as a precursor to modern black-driven American cinema. That’s a lot of weight to put on what is, after all, simply a crime thriller. The reality on the ground, or rather on a scene-by-scene viewing basis, is not quite as glamorous: While Shaft benefits greatly from Roundtree’s performance, its Oscar-nominated title tune (naïve, but still potent) and first-mover advantage in defining blaxploitation, it does feel tepid and dated—there’s definitely some coolness to it, but it doesn’t measure up as favourably as it once did as an urban thriller. Of course, what we see now after decades of imitators is not the same thing as the 1971 audiences saw, some for the first time: a black hero stylishly navigating a complex urban landscape between cops and organized crime. While I enjoyed it, I was clearly expecting more, probably conditioned by endless flashy imitators refining the lessons learned by the original Shaft.

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