Monday, June 13, 2011

Can you dig it?



I watched SHAFT last night, the original version from 1971 with Richard Roundtree. Wow. What a movie. Times Square was seedy then, and Harlem was genuinely sketchy. The film portrays a whole bunch of emerging subcultures. Besides all the different versions of black pride trying to find its feet, there's an openly gay bartender, a sweet hippie, a blind street vendor, that sort of thing. Shaft has befriended all these folks, and has even forged a tense but workable relationship with the Italian police detective who trusts him even though he's black. Yeah I know - right?

The women's movement had not quite caught up with all the rest of the subcultures in the movie. All the women just want to love Shaft. The drop dead gorgeous, light colored black woman who lives in a fancy apartment does nothing but wait for him to show up. She doesn't seem to care much that he can't or won't love her back. The space cadet white woman he picks up in a bar is some kind of crazy stereotype, wow. You could write a masters thesis on what she represents. These women have not yet been liberated; they are flat, one-dimensional. I don't even think they have names. Still, I love the sex scenes. Ha. They are really cute.

I wanted to see the film again because during the first few weeks after I separated from my ex-husband, I was compelled for some reason to watch the movie repeatedly. Interesting that I didn't remember a lot about the film in spite of how many times I watched it. Seeing it again brought back more memories to be blessed and released. What a time this is!

And what a time THAT was. Holy cow. I often reflect on what it was like to come of age in the late 1960s when so many social paradigms were cracking, shattering and opening to something new. Even though we boomers are so into our generation, believe me, at the time it was quite bewildering.

Last night I was wondering what the hell it must have been like for black people. Can you imagine as a kid having to sit at the back of the bus, use separate bathrooms, even separate water fountains, then to suddenly have to figure out how to embody black power and pride after the Civil Rights act was signed? No wonder every black character in that film - including Shaft - is so awkward and exaggerated. Can you imagine how confusing it must have been? Whoa.

It was a great film to watch in the midst of the my current era of transformation. Two woolly socks up, as Tess at Willow Manor would say. Oh yeah.

12 comments:

mouse (aka kimy) said...

i can dig it!!

we needed wooly socks last night here in ohio!

Reya Mellicker said...

It wasn't that cool here, but definitely crisp and gorgeous.

jeanette from everton terrace said...

I don't think I've ever seen that one. Must keep my eyes open now. We watched "Across the universe" this weekend, super creative movie. I liked it - the music helped quite a bit.

Daisy said...

We had a Superman marathon! I enjoy the subtle jokes - like when he goes into a modern phone booth and there is no place to "change"! But when I see Christopher Reeve in films today, I think of how he became a real "super man" after his accident. His courage then spoke of bravery more than any feat of a comic book character.

Nancy said...

You and I are on the same wavelength today. I loved Shaft and my post was on black America during the early 1960's.

cs said...

Times Square was seedy...it's amazing how such a spot so central in the city and the nation could be such a dump. It's funny, but I'm reminded of James Baldwin's Another Country, which opens in Times Square and all its seediness.

California Girl said...

You and Nancy @ Life in the Second Half are paralleling one another today.

"Shaft" came out when I was in college. I've never seen it because I didn't care about blaxploitation films at that time. In fact, the one movie I took pains to see pissed me off and that was that for a long time. It was Melvin Van Peebles "Sweet Sweetback..." something or other. It was one of those, ya gotta see it. Then you see it and you just don't get it. Ha!

Kerry said...

I think I missed out on Shaft, too. Or did I? Maybe I saw it, or maybe I just remember the hype that surrounded it, and the music. Now that you mention it, I want to see it.

It's funny how we associate certain films and music with an era from our lives: James Taylor will forever be linked in my mind with my first apartment and all of the freedom that came with it.

steven said...

i've watched shaft a bunch of times, usually with my brother. the theme song hooked me first with the wah wah pedal treated guitar work of charles pitts being the key drawing point! it's become harder to get past the awkward slinkiness of the film and its stereotypes as i've got older and the film has moved further from its time. but for all the reasons you've laid out here, i'd agree it's still such a vital movie. steven

Reya Mellicker said...

It struck me completely differently than the last time I saw it It was really interesting, didn't piss me off at all. I kept thinking, "Is this how it felt?" Wow.

Daisy you are correct: Christopher Reeve WAS a superman.

Steve said...

You know, that's a very perceptive point. I never thought about the trajectory that the people who embodied black power in that era followed in their own lives.

The '60s were so crazy. I think about my great grandmother, who was born in the late 1800s in North Carolina and lived to see a man walk on the moon. I mean, talk about a transformation!

I loved "Shaft" when I watched it a couple months ago.

Reya Mellicker said...

Steve of course you did! Love the pic of the Mars bar you posted on FB.