AS FAR AS SAMUEL L. JACKSON IS
concerned. there was one true measure of
.S'liii/i‘s success on its release in l‘)7|: the effect it had on w hite people. 'You'd see these white dudes pulling on the funky leather coal and growing their hair and side burns. trying to look like him.' Jackson laughs. ‘liyen now. my wife tells me that where before shed notice women saying "it‘s that guy from that moyie" when talking about me in the street. now it‘s “baby he’s sooooo line. that man ol‘yours". Shit/i does that to people.'
The legacy of the original S/iii/i film is considerable. It was a huge commercial and critical success that made an oyernight star of. its leading man. model-turned-actor Richard Roundtree. ('rucially. it was the first high-profile commercial tlioyie lo haye a black actor in a powerful leading role. It also went some way to creating a whole l‘ilm genre: blaxploitalion. The major studios realised there was a huge black audience w ailing to be tapped into with the right moyies and they promptly did so. S/iii/i spawned a host of inferior imitations. btit also numerous quality moyies. Super/7y. li/iii‘k Caesar and .'\('/'().\',\' HUI/i Siri'vl among them.
.-\side from their obyious racial bent towards black leading characters and. more often than not. white bad guys (w hiley being ’the man‘. the establishment to rebel
against). they also projected a sense of
empowerment. a struggle against adyersity. coupled with a llamboy ancc and confidence. The fashion ran through the mid part of the 7lls only to peter out at the turn of the decade.
The legacy of the blasploilalion genre is long and winding. .\lan_\ directors .lohn Singleton. the director of the new Shit/i. included owe a stylistic debt to the age. films like .\‘i'ii' Jack (ii/y. ('iii'liiii'x lliiy and. most oby iously. .liii-Ai‘i' Brim-ii pay homage to their cultural forebears. Both Singleton and Jackson acknowledge the influence the films of that era had on them. especially Jackson. an aspiring actor at the time. ‘lt was a reyelatory experience in that l was able to see a hero w ho looked liked me. sounded like me and dressed the way I wanted to dress.‘ says Jackson. eyen now at 52. the epitome of sleek st’PlllslicaIiotl. ':\ll of a sudden I realised I could be the guy w ho eyeryone looks at when
the smoke clears. or the one who driyes ol‘l‘ into the sunset with the girl and not be one of
those sacrificial characters I saw Sidney Poitier play for all those years.'
S/iii/i is not a remake hell. it's pretty tenuous eyen to call it a sequel it's a character-driyen action-hero moyie set decades on from the original film and its two sequels. S/iii/i's [fie Si'iiit' arid Shall In Africa. .-\nd while comparisons are sure to come. it is a wry different film from its 7()s namesake. Samuel L. Jackson proyes he
can shine with the most compromised of
scripts. .>\nd compromised it is. much as director John Singleton tries to play down the sltidio interference.
l‘or all the original .loliii Shall was the 'black sex machine to all the chicks. (as Isaac Hayes so skilfully put it). this time round. he doesn‘t get as much as his all- iinportanl coat ol‘l‘. There‘s no shagging
whatsoeyer. But this is the nephew of‘ Shaft and. unlike ole’ uncle .lolm. young John has more to concern him than the ladies.
Richard Roundtree. who played the lead in the original. reprises his role. this time as Harlem‘s answer to Yoda; an all-seeing. all— knowing yeteran who is quick to scorn the young buck for his impulsiye ways and fiery-headed reactions. ‘lt was important to me that he [Roundtree] was in this film and that was the first thing I did when I got on board.’ says Jackson. ‘lt meant that Richard‘s character was there and I could get on deyeloping this new character you see on screen.’
This is a script that quite obviously went through the Hollywood studio wringer: in the latter third. especially. it becomes unfocused with arbitrary shifts in loyalties and motivations. What must not be forgotten. though. is that this is an action llloy‘ie with compulsiye. if not wholly conyincing. characters. Jackson carries the film on his back with a proprietary energy: at no point do we forget whose moyie it is or who to watch. despite sterling performances from supporting cast. The legendary status afforded the original Slur/i
(a highly enjoyable. il' flawed. piece of
cinema) puts added pressure on Jackson and Singleton to come tip with the goods. .-\nd they do. jtist maybe not as fervently and consistently as one might haye hoped.
Singleton has easily achiey'ed his ambition to make an out-and-oul .\'ew York inoyie. one that neyer buckles despite the weight of so much iconic imagery. ‘I wanted the film to reek of New Yorkf says Singleton. ‘The first moy'ie was based mostly in Harlem btil this time we went all over to try and get a real spirit ol'the city in the lilm.’
Race. corruption and retribution. which were the themes back then. are as reley'anl in society both here and in the TS. now as ex er. The difference is that when Roundtree strutted down Times Square in 197]. mainstream cinema had neyer seen a black character as an empowered controlling central figure for a role in a commercial moyie. Things had progressed little from the time of submissiye l'ncle Toms. black maids and man seryants. With the honourable exception of .‘ylely'in Van l’eebles‘ Sweet Sweetback. John Shall was the first to give black cinema goers a true releyant sexy hero who said ‘l'uck the man~ and fixed by his own rules.
While still part of a minority. Wesley Snipes. liddie Murphy. Martin Lawrence. .\lorgan l‘reeman and most significantly Den/cl Washington haye all commanded significant leading roles in major Hollywood flicks. 'l'hankl‘ully. it is the cream of the bunch 7 Jackson — who has taken on this most attdacious of roles. ‘I haye a strange reaction to this idea of me being an icon of cool.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s not something I set out to be when l portray a character. I haye a leyel of confidence in who I am and what I do that borders on arrogance. but I try and tinge it with a bit of humility. Hopefully that translates into something that‘s cool.'
Shaft goes on general release on Fri 15 Sep. See review.
umamuummu TOP TEN
Everyone knows Hayes‘ Shaft, Mayfield's Superﬂy and Roy Ayres‘ (city. So here‘s a top ten of more obscure cuts from the deep end of the blaxploitation soundtrack pond.
10. ‘Sweetback Losing His
Cherry‘ from Sweet
Song - An Opera
The opening tune on a truly
idiOSyncratic soundtrack to the
original and best blaxplonation
mowe is an absolute (.orker,
part Gospel, part funky drum 3 roll but mostly the sound of a
prostitute haVing sex With an underage boy (CD and Vinyl on Stax Records)
9. ‘Hot Wheels' from Gordon‘s War
An awesome chase sequence instrumental from a little-seen 1973 mowe starring Paul Winfield. Heavy on the old claVinet (an organ, sort of), it's a supreme tune on a fine soundtrack album. (Vinyl on Badder Than EVll)
8. ‘Harlem Clavinet' from Across 110th Street “ ﬁfﬁ‘fﬂ“ _ The eponymous track from i ' V Bobby Womack’s film score
was given new life in
Tarantino's Jackie Brown, but
this is the real gem of the
album. Loads of, yes you
guessed it, lush clavmet; deep,
Vibrant and really qUite lovely. (CD and Vinyl on MGM)
7. ‘Mama Feel Good‘ from Black Caesar
One of two forays James Brown made into s0undtrack recording (the other being the excellent 'Slaughter's Big Rip Off’). The Godfather gives us some deep funk while Lynn Collins is the voice. About as good as it gets. (CD and Vinyl on Polydor)
6.“Run Tina Run' from Blacula More funky Width than a vampire's Cloak, it's a pish mowe but boy what a soundtrack! Composer Gene Page ups the ante on the funkometer. (CD and Vinyl on RCA)
5. ‘Savage (Title Theme)’
Funk that can make your ears
sweat. Opener from Don
Julian's brilliant soundtrack to
a largely forgotten tale of
simple Jungle folk, this has a
flute loop in it so heavy it Will
have you creaming your flared
leather chaps. (Vinyl re-issue
on Southb0und Records)
4. ‘Pursuit Of The Pimp Mobile' from Truck Turner This Issac Hayes vehicle Will never be in anyone's top 100 mowes list, but the album is very nearly the equal of his mould breaking Shaft. Amongst a plethora of butt-shaking cuts, this is the funkiest. Remember the Lord gave us the Wa Wa pedal for a reason. (Double album on CD With Tough Guys; Single re-issues on Vinyl)
3. ‘The 8055‘ from Black Caesar
James Brown sometimes surpassed even his own high standards —- this was one of those moments. Contains the aching riff Ice T sampled on 'You Played Yourself' from his Iceberg album. (CD and Vinyl on Polydor)
2. ‘The Call Me Mr Tibbs' , . 1': MM“... V from T ey Call Me Mr W Tibbs
Not offiCially a blaxplonalion
mowe, it just about sneaks in
the back door. A weak sequel
to In The Heat Of The Night, it
contains the most downright
throbbing funkiest title tune
ever. (CD and Vinyl on MGM)
1. ‘Somebody‘s Gonna Off The Man' from Together Brothers
One of Barry White's rare ventures into soundtrack music (see also Our Man Friday), this is something else. White has Side one of the album to himself, while Love Unlimited drift away With their lush harmonics on the B side. Insist someone plays it at your funeral. (Unavailable. Vintage second hand Vinyl only on PYE) (Compiled by Paul Dale With a lot of help from Professor Plastic)
7—21 Sep 2000 THE lIST9