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SHAFT (1971): VHS

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Following the breakout success of Melvin Van Peebles's SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG, Gordon Parks' SHAFT would officially launch the historic Blaxploitation movement. Based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman, the film stars Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, a debonair, tough-talking private detective, who became a full-fledged American archetype after the film was released. Combining street smarts and sharp wit, Shaft is the quintessential black action hero. After battling against Harlem gang kingpin Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), Shaft decides to help rescue Bumpy's daughter from the Mafia. What follows is an action-packed thrill ride through the rough-and-tumble streets of early 1970s New York City.Featuring one of the most recognizable theme songs in movie history (for which Isaac Hayes' won a Best Song Oscar in 1972), Parks' follow-up to his critically acclaimed, though monetarily disappointing, drama THE LEARNING TREE remains the definitive Blaxploitation film. Roundtree delivers a legendary performance as the ultra-cool detective, in this groundbreaking film that would spawn two sequels (SHAFT'S BIG SCORE! and SHAFT IN AFRICA) and a big-budget remake in 2000.