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USA, 1971 (MIFF 1998, Funky! Freaky! Foxy! - Blaxploitation Cinema)

Director: Gordon Parks Jr.

Times Square. The Sony logo. Marquees: He and She, The Animal, School for Sex, The Wild Females. 1971. Welcome to New York City in 35mm winter. Turf of John Shaft - or that smooth-skinned Essence-subscribing ex-model, Richard Rowntree. Nice guy, quick gun, loud wah-wah. All the jokes are about Issac Hayes' inimitable score and theme song (Oscar for Best Song, 1971 - only time the Academy were ever right). The film is different. More laid-back, a touch gritty, doco-textured with the smell of the streets. Rowntree is always a bit too clean, but that's the trip. Clean up the streets without getting your plaid flared suit ruffled or your polo neck tussled. He dresses like those guys in old ads you still see in tailors' stores. He says "right on" as convincingly as Benny Hill. Despite all this, Shaft is a solid, mainstream example of inventively reworking the 40s private dick with racial overtones and funky undercurrents. Plus, this has to be the brown-est movie ever made. Can you dig it? - Philip Brophy

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