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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Shaft (1971)



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Shaft was the most famous of the blaxpoitation films of the 1970s. True to the genre's ideals, Shaft is full to the brim with soul, attitude, and promiscuous overtones. It was a film made by, for, and about inner city blacks, and for one of the first times in movie history, blacks had the power and freedom to work in mainstream film. In light of this, it's interesting to look at the race-related content of the film. Whites are present as characters in the story, but they're shunted aside by both the black characters and by the film itself, much like the adult characters are treated in A Hard Day's Night. They're simply irrelevant to the matter at hand.

As time passed, a hero like John Shaft, whose attitude never wavered in the face of authority (white or otherwise), was no longer needed. But the character, memorably played by Richard Roundtree, would reappear in two sequels and a television series before withdrawing into obscurity.

Decades later, what does a film like Shaft look like today? Pretty badly dated. Almost every aspect of it has aged: race relations have changed significantly since then, as has the mob scene. The street lingo has changed so much that modern audiences may have trouble in spots figuring out all the jive. But dated is ok. As movies age, they acquire historical significance.

What is a problem is that the movie drags like an anchor in the mud. I guess the intention was to make an updated film noir, but it doesn't work. The mystery is neither original nor compelling, and none of the action (what little there is) is convincing enough to build tension. With the possible exception of Shaft himself, we don't care about the characters and therefore don't care about the story, which, after all, is only a device to move Shaft from one opportunity to show off his cool to another.

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