Can You Dig It?
This may come as a surprise, but my deep and abiding affection for gangsta rap is relatively new. In my post-metalhead phase, I was more into funk and soul, with some electro and 80s hip-hop thrown in for good measure. As David Carradine would say, I was all about the old school.
The reason can be traced back to what might be the most pivotal moment of my life. I was fifteen years old, and had a desire to see a particular movie, since I'd heard so much about it from other media. So one evening after I'd stayed home sick from school, my mom rented it for me. I put it in the VCR, and it changed me. It changed how I looked at things, how I interacted with people, and how I think. It was the greatest movie I'd ever seen.
That film was 1971's Shaft.
If technology had caught up with the way things are in my head, as soon as you read that sentence, Isaac Hayes' immortal theme would start. The song's actually a lot longer than most people think; the whole deal with being the black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks doesn't even come until like three minutes into it. But it's the perfect "bown-down-dadada-down, wockachicka-bown-dadada-down" soundtrack for the first time we see the guy who would become, along with Batman, my predominant male role model.
Shaft is the kind of guy who throws a man through a window in the first ten minutes of the movie, then gets mad when the cops give him shit about it. He's the kind of guy who calls up the most feared gangster in New York, and when the gangster answers his phone "Wrong number," says "I know damn well what number this is!" He is, quite simply, the coolest character ever put on film.
The script is, in places, phenomenal, and Richard Roundtree handles it better than anyone possibly could. I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that someone sent a cyborg back from the future just to make sure he got the part so that the awesome, over-the-top lines Shaft says would work. He drops gems throughout, and I could fill up an entire post just talking about the righteous dialogue. Okay, just a few:
VIC: Come on, Shaft, what is it with this black shit, huh? (He holds up a pen to Shaft's face) You ain't so black.
SHAFT: (Holds up a coffee cup) And you ain't so white, baby.
ELLIE: You got problems, baby?
SHAFT: Yeah, I got a couple of 'em. I was born black and I was born poor.
TOM: Hey, where the hell you goin', Shaft?
SHAFT: I'm goin' to get laid, where the hell you goin'?
And the hits just keep on coming. That last one defined my personal philosophy throughout my teenage years. But the best, the absolute definition of how cool Shaft is, is established in his very first lines of dialogue, spoken over the opening beats of the theme:
"Hey, baby, up yours."
THAT'S THE FIRST THING HE EVER SAYS! HOW COOL IS THAT?!
Sorry. Didn't mean to lose my composure. The dialogue in this flick is just amazing, and Richard Roundtree pulls it off so well it's unbelivable. He even came back for 2000's Shaft starring Samuel L. Jackson, which is in Shaft Continuity.
The fact is, Shaft is incredible, and if you haven't seen it, you're wasting your life. I heard the Cardinals make every new Pope watch it once a month for the first year just to make sure he "keeps it real."
One caveat, though. While it is and will remain the greatest movie ever made before and after you watch it, it gets pretty rough during the whole thing. It's an odd kind of balance that makes me think that the makers of Shaft knew they were creating the best thing ever built by man, and that if there weren't flaws, it would surely drive those who viewed it to madness.
I've been sitting here for a few minutes trying to think of a way to put this next sentence that won't illicit chuckles from junior high students, but there isn't one.
If you can't get enough Shaft, and trust me, you can't, try out one of the three--yes, three-- sequels: Shaft's Big Score, Diamond Shaft, and Shaft In Africa ("The Brother Man in the Motherland!"), and be sure to catch Richard Roundtree playing a badass private eye on recent episodes of Desperate Housewives! See how I tie that shit together?
Yeah, regardless of how cool Shaft is, it's still Sunday, and the Arrested Development-Desperate Housewives-Boston Legal Rock Block was in full effect, despite a lack of Roundtree anywhere in sight. Contrary to last week, I think BL took the prize tonight, although really, are law firms out there really like Crane, Poole, and Schmidt? Because everyone who works there is pretty ridiculously gorgeous, and I need to know before I pursue this writer thing any more.
The only thing that marred my Sunday Night ABC Club viewing experience was that this local news douchebag kept coming on and delivering these ridiculous promos for the 11 O'Clock newscast. Apparently temperatures in the Midlands are going to get down to the teens, and he wants us to prepare for the worst. Listen, buddy, my girlfriend lives in Winnipeg, where she's been waiting for the bus in -50. NEGATIVE. FIFTY. That's ten degrees past where Celsius and Farenheight meet. So I sincerely doubt that us finally getting appropriate weather for the season is "the worst." But then again, this is the same guy who was on my TV a few weeks ago trying to get me to stick around for a newscast about people making Jesus-scented perfume.
Up yours, baby.