Created by Ernest Tidyman (1928-84)
Who is the man
JOHN SHAFT, along with Minimum Blazer Party Cocktail Navy Dress Leontina Peter Gunn, is one of the few P.I.s probably best known outside the shamus gang for his theme song. In this case, it's Isaac Hayes' Academy Award-winning, percolating, throbbing slab of funk theme for the 1971 film (based on Ernest Tidyman's novel of the same year) and subsequent hit single that set the tone for much of the following decade's black pop music, though little of it matched the visceral mean streets ferocity of its groove.
And Shaft was every bit as innovative as his theme song, both as the harbinger of the blaxploitation film explosion of the seventies, and within the literary genre of private eyes. Up until Shaft, black eyes were few and far between. In fact, except for Ed Lacy's Toussaint Moore, there were few of any consequence at all. A few P.I.'s, either chock-full of racist stereotypes, or victims of a condescending whitewash, and that was about it. Shaft changed all that.
And Shaft wasn't just black. He was defiant in-yer-motherfucking-face black. The original angry black dick, as violent as mark Blue Homme Selected Shdonenew Light Men's Shirt awHwTnqO. A chip on his shoulder and an attitude that left no doubt that he was nobody to mess with.
And he never backed down. As Raymond Chandler put it, in his essay, The Simple Art of Murder, "He will take no man's...insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him." Shaft was always ready to mix it up, or even go to war.
His turf was the very mean streets of New York City. He had expensive tastes, and liked to dress sharp. He had a swinging bachelor pad in Greenwich Village and worked out of an office in Times Square, but his cases often took him into Harlem and other black neighbourhoods -- and later, around the world. But his clients and friends come from the 'hood, and his cases often involved various black mobsters and/or radicals. He distrusted most whites, but he had little use for activists or politicians of any colour. He's content to be his own man.
The Shaft books, taken as a whole, are some of the toughest, most hard-boiled P.I. novels of the seventies, and the three films, which cleaned up Shaft a bit, made an even huger impact on the population as a whole. A subsequent series of made-for-television movies, however, wimped out, emasculating both Hayes' score, and Shaft's character. About the only thing left from the films was actor Richard Roundtree in the lead role, looking bewildered. "Shaft on TV makes Pullover Jumper Vero Winetasting Pullover Jumper Winetasting Moda Vero Moda SnOp7q4O look like Eldridge Cleaver,"' was the way Cecil Smith of The Los Angeles Times put it. And it wasn't meant as a compliment.
Shaft's creator was Ernest Tidyman, a screenwriter who also scripted such films as The French Connection and High Plains Drifter. So well received was the film by blacks -- no doubt overjoyed to see a tough, smart, well-dressed black private eye more than holding his own in a white world, telling both cops and the mob to back off -- that the NAACP bestowed its Image Award upon Tidyman. It was a true honour, given that Tidyman was white.
* * * * *
Fast forward a couple of decades or so... it just had to happen, after all suffocating seventies nostalgia going on in the nineties: Shaft came back! But maybe he should have stayed away.
The sheer audacity of the character had become standard fare in cinema. John "Boyz 'n' the Hood" Singleton's helmed a big bucks, big screen remake of the classic flick about "the black private eye who digs like a private sex machine with all the chicks", with Richard "Clockers" Price scripting, and Samuel "Pulp Fiction" Jackson starring. Richard Roundtree even popped up as the original Shaft, to hand over the family biz to nephew Jackson. Can you dig it?
I thought I would, especially given all the talent involved, but the end result was disappointing, to say the least. Shaft wasn't even a private eye anymore. Oh, they pumped up the volume, and it's certainly entertaining, in a slick, pre-programmed , pass the popcorn sorta way, but it was just another movie; a clear indicator that it wasn't 1971. It was a marketing strategy with a movie as an attachment, with all the edge of a Nerf ball and all the soul of a paper cup, just another over-ampled shoot-'em-up. The throbbing Isaac Hayes soundtrack is the best part.
And indeed, when I first saw it in a theatre, the only time the audience truly perked up was when the first few notes of the theme came throbbing through the speakers.
-- Ian Rankin, creator of the Inspector Rebus series (heartily recommended), who cheerfully admits that he got Rebus' first name, "John" from John Shaft, and was evidently very down with the brothers in Scotland.
THOUGHTS ON THE (THEN) NEW SHAFT FLICK
-- Jim Doherty of Chicago
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Originally offered as a download to buyers of the 2015 comic book, also written by Walker.
Collects the first three films.
Part of The New CBS Tuesday Night Movies, rotating with Hawkins, which starred James Stewart.More Stone Grey Blouse Fast Express amp; HxvvCR
COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
Here we go. Dynamite have signed a deal that will allow them to not only release original comics and graphic novels, but also new prose novels, as well as re-prints of all the existing Shaft novels. Can you dig it?
GRAHIC NOVELS & COLLECTIONS
Graphic novel collects the entire Dynamite mini-series by David F. Walker, as well as script pages, concept art, variant covers and more.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Pretty much all you'd ever want to know about Shaft. Billed as "A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and Television Series," the book focusses quite a bit on the trials and tribulations of Tidyman, drawing from his own personal papers, and then revisits the whole Shaft world: the novels (by Tidyman and others), the films, the long-lost newspaper comic strip and the series' upcoming return to the printed page, and, supposedly, to the big screen. Can you dig it?
Great piece from 2003 by Ray Embrack, from Allan Guthrie's amazing Noir Originals site.
Dress Leontina Minimum Cocktail Party Navy Blazer A son remembers....
Steve Aldous, the author of the upcoming The Complete Book of Shaft, tracks down who wrote what. From The Rap Sheet.
Respectfully submitted by T Selected shirt Slhalex Black Print Homme tqw1qzr6. A very special thanks to Mark Sullivan, Gerald So and Ernest Tidyman's son (name witheld upon request) for their input.
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Material & care
Outer fabric material: 100% polyester
Lining: 95% polyester, 5% elastane
Care instructions: Do not tumble dry, machine wash at 30°C, Machine wash on gentle cycle
Neckline: Low-cut v-neck
Details: Adjustable straps, slip
Article number: MI421C06H-K11