Sunday, August 10, 2008

Who Is the Man?

If, like me, you remember fondly the 1971 motion picture Shaft, based on Ernest Tidyman’s first (1970) novel about super-cool, African-American New York City private eye John Shaft, then this is news of a particularly sad sort. As CNN reports:
Soul singer and arranger Isaac Hayes, who won Grammy awards and an Oscar for the theme from the 1971 action film “Shaft,” has died, sheriff’s officials in Memphis, Tennessee, reported Sunday.

Relatives found Hayes, 65, unconscious in his home next to a still-running treadmill, said Steve Shular, a spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.

Paramedics attempted to revive him and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 2 p.m., the sheriff's department said.

No foul play is suspected, the agency said in a written statement.
Tidyman went on to write six more Shaft novels (the final one being named, of course, The Last Shaft), and that initial feature film starring Richard Roundtree spawned two lesser sequels--Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa (1973). Roundtree reinhabited the character in a 1973-1974 CBS-TV version of Shaft, which forced “the black private dick/that’s a sex machine to all the chicks” to tone down his language, wear double-knit pants (what the hell were they thinking?), work with “The Man” more often than against him, and share a Tuesday night rotation with Jimmy Stewart’s legal drama, Hawkins. And in 2000, the Manhattan gumshoe returned once more in the inferior film Shaft, this time with the usually magnetic Samuel L. Jackson playing the part.

For anyone who saw that first movie, though, none of these other incarnations means squat. None of them measures up to the original, with Hayes’ soon-to-be-famous theme. In celebration of the late composer’s work, I’ve embedded the opening of Roundtree’s Shaft above. It’s a long clip, and Hayes’ unforgettable lyrics don’t even kick in until the 2:49 mark. But on this day of all days, it’s definitely worth another listen, don’t you think?

READ MORE:Isaac Hayes, 65, a Creator of ’70s Soul Style, Dies,” by Ben Sisario (The New York Times); “Isaac Hayes, Deep-Voiced Soul Icon, Is Dead at 65” (Associated Press); “Beyond Shaft,” by Kevin Burton Smith (January Magazine).

1 comment:

wstroby said...

Last year, I finally tracked down a copy of THE LAST SHAFT, which was only published in the U.K. I always wondered why it hadn't been picked up by a U.S. publisher, even as a paperback. Reading it, it was easy to see why. It's the weakest of the books by far and seems to have been written by Tidyman (or whomever, some suspect it was ghosted) with tongue firmly in cheek. A sad end for John Shaft.