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Gordon Parks
Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Sherri Brewer
Ernest Tidyman, John DF Black
A crime lord hires private detective John Shaft to find and retrieve his kidnapped daughter.
Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English PCM Monaural
English PCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/21/2022

Disc One:
• “Revisiting Shaft” Documentary
• “Soul in Cinema” Featurette
• Interview with Actor Richard Roundtree
• Interview with Composer Isaac Hayes
• “The Soul Sound” Featurette
• “Styling Shaft” Featurette
• Promotional Spots
Disc Two:
Shaft’s Big Score Feature Film
• “Listen to a Stranger” Featurette
• “A Complicated Man” Documentary
• “John Shaft and the Black Detective Tradition” Featurette
• “Behind the Scenes” Featurette
Shaft’s Big Score Trailer
• Booklet


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
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-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
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Shaft: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 13, 2022)

In 1971, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song essentially originated the “Blaxploitation” genre. For arguably its most famous genre-mate, we go to 1971’s Shaft.

Set in Harlem, John Shaft (Richard Roundtree) works as a private detective. When local gangster Bumpy Jonas’s (Moses Gunn) daughter Marcy (Sherri Brewer) gets kidnapped, Shaft takes the job to find her.

This leads Shaft down a mix of problematic roads. With a variety of potentially dangerous parties involved, Shaft needs to deal with a mix of threats as he seeks to locate Marcy.

To my surprise, this 2022 Criterion release became my first experience with the original Shaft. I saw both the 2000 reboot/sequel and the 2019 reboot/sequel, but the 1971 flick escaped me until now.

While not sure how high to set my expectations, I did go into the 1971 movie with the strong belief it’d better its 21st century successors. The 2000 version felt mediocre and cliché, whereas the 2019 tale turned into a cinematic atrocity, so I thought it seemed highly probable I’d prefer the original.

And I do, though that doesn’t mean I find the 1971 Shaft to provide an especially strong movie. As much as I respect what it accomplished in culture ways, the actual film itself seems pretty mediocre.

Both Sweetback and Shaft pioneered new territory in the ways they presented strong Black characters. Their title roles seem powerful, confident and never take crap from whites.

Circa 1971, audiences hadn’t seen Blacks depicted in that way. Clearly the approach seen in these two movies resonated with Black audiences more than happy to view Black roles who never seemed even vaguely subservient.

I do appreciate that impact, but more than five decades later, the cultural meaning feels like fairly ancient history. Not that racism vanished, of course, but since 1971, scores of films featured strong Black characters, and they did so in ways that feel less contrived.

The issue with Shaft comes from the semi-bizarre way that so much of the dialogue revolves around race. Rather than just present a powerful Black figure, the movie emphasizes race in a self-conscious way that seems designed to spotlight that basically defines Shaft by race.

Again, I get this from a 1971 cultural POV, but it dates the film badly. I can’t help but think a Shaft that avoids specific discussion of race and simply presents a confident, effective character would work better.

Beyond its cultural significance, the most important aspect of Shaft comes from Isaac Hayes’ classic theme and score. These elements remain enjoyable and act as the most memorable element on display here.

Otherwise, Shaft tends to provide a competent but never especially compelling detective film. If we separate the story from its social meaning, we find something perfectly watchable but not better than that.

Frankly, the story becomes a mess. Though a simple plot at heart, the narrative flits all over the place and makes a basic tale too complicated.

Still, Shaft comes with a raw energy that keeps it moderately engaging, and Roundtree’s iconic lead performance helps. While not the most natural turn, Roundtree manages enough charisma and on-screen power to show Shaft as a compelling hero.

51 years after its release, I think Shaft remains relevant mainly due to its cultural importance, as the movie itself never becomes more than competent. Still, it delivers a decent enough story to make it worth a look.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus A-

Shaft appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a fine transfer.

Sharpness appeared clear and concise. On occasion some shots looked slightly soft or hazy, but these instances did not occur frequently, and I suspect they reflected the source photography. Instead, the majority of the film was crisp and detailed.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement wasn’t a factor. Grain seemed appropriate, while source flaws stayed absent. This was a clean image without any noticeable print defects.

Shaft featured a fairly natural palette that tilted slightly toward the amber side, and it brought appealing colors. The tones seemed accurate and full.

Black levels appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail also was usually clear and without excessive darkness. Across the board, this became a quality presentation.

The LPCM monaural audio of Shaft held up acceptably well over the last 51 years, though speech became the weakest link. While lines were intelligible, they tended to seem reedy, and they could come across as edgy at times.

Effects appeared fairly full and dynamic, and they didn’t suffer from any prominent distortion or other problems. Music also was reasonably bright and rich, with pretty nice range. As a monaural soundtrack for a low-budget 1971 release, Shaft seemed acceptable.

Note that the disc came with a new LPCM stereo remix as well. This spread effects across the front in a modest manner, especially in terms of NYC street ambience.

However, those elements still largely seemed monaural, whereas the biggest change impacted music. Isaac Hayes’ score boasted an appealing stereo impression.

Although I normally prefer original theatrical audio, the tasteful nature of the stereo remix made it the way to go. Because the track really just changed the source to provide stereo music, it felt like a modest but appealing alteration that ensured the 2022 version still seemed true to the original’s intentions.

A mix of extras appear across two discs, and a 2022 documentary called Revisiting Shaft spans 32 minutes, 57 seconds. It involves notes from curator Rhea L. Combs, film scholar Racquel Gates, filmmaker Nelson George and music scholar Shana Redmond. We also find archival statements from director Gordon Parks.

“Revisiting” looks at the movie’s cultural impact and some facets connected to that domain. This turns into a fairly solid appreciation of the film’s influence and significance.

From 1971, Soul in Cinema goes for 10 minutes, 48 seconds and features behind the scenes footage from both the production and the score recording sessions. It acts as a nice view of the set.

Shot in 2010, we get an Interview with Actor Richard Roundtree. It fills 12 minutes, five seconds and provides Roundtree’s thoughts about his casting, aspects of the shoot and the movie’s impact on his life. Though brief, Roundtree offers some good notes.

From 1974, an Interview with Composer Isaac Hayes occupies 34 minutes, 13 seconds. Filmed for French TV, Hayes talks about his career and his work on Shaft.

We also get footage of Hayes and others on stage and in various settings. We don’t learn a lot from Hayes himself because the interview clips tend to seem short and superficial, but the additional footage adds value.

Another 2022 program, The Soul Sound runs 12 minutes, three seconds and delivers more info from Shana Redmond. She looks at the movie’s music and its place in the culture/period. Redmond brings a pretty good take on the topic.

Styling Shaft brings a 2022 discussion with costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi. During the 15-minute, 47-second reel, Aulisi covers his career, his work on the film as well as his collaboration with Parks. Expect a nice view of these domains.

Disc One finishes with Promotional Spots. We locate the movie’s trailer, a teaser and a radio ad.

On Disc Two, the main attraction comes from Shaft’s Big Score!, the movie’s 1972 sequel. 1973 brought a third film called Shaft in Africa, but it doesn’t appear in this set.

Score runs 1:45:27. When Shaft’s friend Cal Asby (Robert Kya-Hill) dies in a car explosion, our favorite Black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks investigates.

Of course, Score lacks the social impact of the first film, so its merits reside solely in terms of the actual cinematic product. In that vein, Score seems like a competent effort but it tends to feel like “product” more than its predecessor.

As such, Score seems to exist to capitalize on the first movie’s success more than as its own project. That holds true for most sequels, so I can’t fault Score too much in this regard.

Technically, Score feels like a more accomplished. It enjoyed a bigger budget and shows the self-assurance of a crew who already enjoyed a big hit.

The movie simply lacks the novel spark of its predecessor. It turns Shaft into more of a Bond-like figure and makes him less “street”, for better or for worse.

The biggest negative I find here comes from the absence of Isaac Hayes as composer. He declined to return, so Gordon Parks scored the film himself.

Parks created Imitation Hayes, right down to a theme song that sounds an awful lot like Hayes’ classic but without nearly as memorable a vibe. Hayes’ absence becomes a real issue.

Overall, though, Score presents a watchable detective tale, albeit one that feels detached from the first film. It becomes moderately engaging but can seem like it comes from a different universe than its predecessor.

Expect pretty good picture and audio quality here. Shot 2.40:1, visuals became less grainy and smoother. Some softness interfered at times, but in general, the movie looked fine, and the monaural audio seemed more than adequate for its era.

Indeed, the soundtrack gave us another improvement from the 1971 movie, as the superior production values meant Score’s audio lost the roughness occasionally heard during the prior flick. This was an appealing presentation of the sequel.

In addition to Score, a few more features show up on Disc Two, and Listen to a Stranger provides a circa 1972 interview with director Gordon Parks.

During this 19-minute, 12-second chat, Parks discusses aspects of his life and career, along with some footage from the Score shoot. This ends up as a pretty insightful discussion.

Found on the Blu-ray for the 2019 Shaft, A Complicated Man brings a three-part documentary from 2019 that fills a total of 44 minutes, 10 seconds. Across these segments, we hear from Roundtree, film professor Dr. Todd Boyd, Shaft’s Revenge writer David F. Walker, Black Dynamite writer/actor Michael Jai White, 2019 Shaft director Tim Story, fashion designer Ron Finley, actors Regina Hall and Samuel L. Jackson, and composer’s son Isaac Hayes III.

“Man” examines the origins of Shaft and the movies as well as an appreciation of them. “Man” never becomes the deepest documentary, but it provides a decent overview.

Via 2022’s John Shaft and the Black Detective Tradition, we locate a 25-minute, 56-second piece with scholar Kinohi Niskikawa and writer Walter Mosley.

They talk about genre predecessors to Shaft and the movie’s place in that realm. Expect a quality examination of this topic.

In addition to the trailer for Score, we get a 1972 behind the scenes featurette. It takes up nine minutes, 15 seconds and offers footage from the set. It becomes another fun view of the production.

The set concludes with a booklet. It includes credits, art and an essay from critic Amy Abugo Ongiri. Though not one of Criterion’s best booklets, it adds some value.

A seminal film, I appreciate the cultural importance of Shaft more than its cinematic merits. That said, it presents a moderately engaging detective tale, if not an especially good one. The Blu-ray comes with very good visuals and a nice array of bonus materials as well as era-appropriate audio. This turns into a solid release for a significant movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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