The 20-teens are a weird, difficult time.
We try to live with that; our pop culture reflects that. Both consciously and unconsciously, our entertainment reflects, and refracts, the weirdnesses and difficulties of the time when it's produced. This process can be thoughtful; it can be thoughtless; but it simply happens. Otherwise it's like trying to breathe where there's no air.
I remember only a sliver of the Seventies from direct exposure, living on a suburban San Diego cul de sac; the imperfect prisms of history and art expose me to more, from people who saw, and remember, more from that time.
David Walker remembers more than I do, and (more importantly) from a much different perspective. Which brings us to Shaft. Such an icon of the Seventies, and an icon I've appreciated in the past through the first film and that music (you know it); David Walker appreciates it, and is knowledgeable about it, in much greater depth. He's read all seven of the original novels by Shaft creator Ernest Tidyman, and prefers the books: there's more depth to Shaft in them. That first film tells us John Shaft is "a complicated man"; the books show us, with plenty of hints of how John Shaft became who he was. You're allowed that depth.
David Walker is adding to that depth, in a really cool way: with the blessing of Tidyman's widow, he's working with Dynamite Comics and Brazilian artist Bilquis Evely to give us new Shaft stories. The first issue of Walker and Eveley's comic came out this month, and kicks ass. Right now Walker is writing Shaft's Revenge, the first Shaft novel since the Seventies. And Tuesday night he signed comics, visited people and showed Shaft's Big Score, his favorite of the films, at the Hollywood Theatre.
At a Q&A after the movie, Walker took the stage with host Jason Lamb and artists Mike Oeming, Matt Haley and Ulises Farinas, who've all done covers for Shaft #1. Walker talked about how Shaft influenced him even before he was old enough to see the first movie, thanks to an LP of Isaac Hayes' music. And as he's said elsewhere, the problems the Shaft stories dealt with over 40 years ago are too similar to current problems, because racism sucks and is awful in ways that sometimes are not much different from when Shaft debuted. (A cover for Shaft #2 has John Shaft in a spotlight, his hands up, deadpanning "Don't shoot." The Ferguson/Mike Brown/protests reference is fully intentional.) Walker is a sincere smartass, and good at joking about deadly serious issues without obscuring how those issues are deadly serious. That informs Walker's film criticism, his books (like his kickass young adult novel Super Justice Force), his feature films (like the romantic comedy Damaged Goods and his blaxploitation short Black Santa's Revenge (Ken Foree!)) and, now, his Shaft stories. He also knows what not to do, as he's seen the Shaft TV series (yes there was one) and seen and hated the 2000 film version with Samuel L. Jackson; by the way, he smilingly told us that Tidyman's widow hates that film, too. Walker and Dynamite had decided almost immediately that full-on updating Shaft to the modern day was a bad idea. The wrong kind of bad, not the John Shaft kind of bad.
Walker also talked about how the first Shaft film was made at a time when Hollywood was "starting to take New York City seriously as a filming location," and was at the start of ever-better film crew talent working and staying in NYC. Shaft's Big Score is a better-made movie than Shaft; other, even better movies like Taxi Driver would follow, but the seeds of the fascinating Seventies film industry and the many NYC-shot films from then were starting to sprout thanks to that first film.
You want to hear David Walker speak; and I hope you want to read what he has to say, too. I love his and Evely's recreation of Shaft-era New York (Issue #1 begins in early 1968, before John Shaft becomes a P.I.); I can almost smell it. The antagonist character Junius, I'm guessing, wears bad cologne, and a lot of it.
I am one of lots of people who are glad to see David Walker's work pay off like this. Keep it up, man. John Shaft will approve.
Links with more!:
David Walker's website: http://www.badazzmofo.com
A Comic Book Resources piece on Walker and the Shaft comic: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=55560
There really was a TV series: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaft_(TV_series)