Black private detective Shaft is famous for being the best on the streets of New York. At first he fights the king of Harlem, the black gangster Bumpy, but soon he is forced to join forces with him: the white mafia men kidnap Bumpy’s young daughter.
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No, it didn’t start with him. It started a little earlier, when the cheap and frankly auteuristic Sweetbeck suddenly became a box-office hit. That was the genesis of Blacksploitation. However, the first truly stellar hour (an hour and forty minutes, to be exact) of the newborn genre happened a couple of months later: in June 1971, the screens of large and small American cinemas lighted up the Hollywood creation of an unprecedented negroid orientation, and its name was – “Shaft”.
That’s the name of the main character. He is black and hot. He is the owner of fancy leather jackets and a wife without a bodice. He walks through the city to the front of the cars, accompanied by pathetic offstage songs about his immense coolness. He cackles infectiously in the face of pale-faced death and equally pale-faced superiors. He’s a nudged-up version of Detective Bullitt. Which means the criminals are going to have a tough time. Among them, only a lucky few owners of depigmented palms survive, but even these scoundrels will get theirs someday – because Shaft and his suitcase of ponces can not be held within the limits of one movie.
The Italian Mafia is about to punish a bent Harlem drug dealer and steals his daughter. The thief enlists the help of someone who can, if not everything, tell him what he can’t, and he will. The curly-haired detective wonders on a large scale for an hour and a half, walking, running, and wheeling through a city that seems to have been grounded specifically for him. Rooms with a lowered window sill line to make it more convenient to throw the bastards out into the driveway. Coffee tables at every turn, so you can put your feet up (because if you don’t, no miracle will happen). Lipsy junkies and gay bartenders in all the right places in New York to make the background soul sound a little more intense. And there’s a freedom that’s getting bigger by the minute.
Gone are the days of bowing down to pompous white gentlemen – now their vile speeches can be shoved back down their throats, along with a lawsuit and a picture of Martin Luther King. Let the cab drivers still prefer dark-skinned brothers to white passengers, let the sugar-coated waitress not yet be afraid to look defiantly past taking an order from a descendant of African natives – everything is about to change. Dolemite will come to the streets of the United States, Boss Nigger will ride into the Wild West, Blackula will fly in on the smell of blood… And then the river of anti-racism will lose its banks, but that’s another story.
John Shaft’s story – the very first one, unaware of its ridiculous future sequels – remains a good picture with a not very original and thrilling plot, but with marvelous music (even the Oscar academics admitted it), excellent camerawork and a very high quality production for this genre. Gordon Parks’ brainchild manages to get decades later not only the friendly slaps from the Black Dynamites but also the respectful applause from guys like Django Libre, thanks to its quite objective cinematic merits. And those guys know a thing or two about movies.
Can you dig it?
Codec: HEVC / H.265 (76.6 Mb/s)
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
English: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
English: LPCM 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
English: Dolby Digital Mono