Shaft

Shaft. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1971.

Before watching the movie:

Here’s a film (and hit title song) that’s often parodied, been remade relatively successfully, and launched an entire genre of movies, but how many people have actually seen it?

I know that Shaft is a detective, and that he’s awesomely cool. Also he’s black. That’s supposed to be important.

During/after watching the movie:

John Shaft is a private investigator who gets hired by a mob boss with a kidnapped daughter. He works just enough outside the law that the police give him trouble, but he’s got a good one on his side. As he gets closer to the mystery, the rival boss starts to take notice of Shaft, and the Chief wants Shaft’s license now.

This movie was obviously progressive for its time. The race card is played a lot in the first few minutes, but afterward, it doesn’t seem to come up overtly. It’s hard not to notice that there’s only one good guy who’s white, though. I’m sure in the 70s it was radical to have a black man in a sex scene with a white woman, but it’s only mildly unusual today.

Roundtree’s Shaft is calm, collected, and competent, but human. I wouldn’t call him supercool or particularly promiscuous. He completely doesn’t live up to the hype. He was more boring than anything, though he gets off a lot of good one-liners.

The movie as a whole bored me, but I can’t fault it for not being made for a viewer in 2010. There’s minor tension, but hardly any action. Very little gunplay until the end, which is over in less than five minutes. Shaft has been built up in the culture (and in the title song) as something more mythic than the man I saw here.

See this movie: If you’re apt to be disappointed by a guy who’s not so black.

Don’t see this movie: If the case busted wide open, and you have to close it yourself.

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