Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Gordon Parks - R.I.P.

A moment to note the passing of Gordon Parks - the great Life magazine photographer and the man who brought us both Shaft and Shaft's Big Score!, a film I would place on my very short list of sequels that I prefer to the originals (along with The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, French Connection II, Aliens and Dawn of the Dead).

Parks was the first African American to direct a major studio picture (The Learning Tree, in 1969 - 1969!!), but his Shaft movies are what he's best remembered for as a director, the first one a milestone in American film history, kicking off (along with Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song) an exciting new wave of black cinema in the early 70's, which itself turned into a flood of Shaft and Superfly ripoffs (though usually with amazing soundtracks) known collectively as Blaxploitation pictures. Both Shaft films are entertaining, but Shaft's Big Score! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title) is slightly more so, impressive considering it was whipped off by MGM to capitalize on the box office success of the original. It ends with a 20-minute-long, multi-vehicle chase sequence that might be a little drawn-out by today's ADD-ridden standards but is quite spectacularly filmed (the music that accompanies the sequence is called 'A Symphony For Shafted Souls' on the soundtrack LP - Parks composed the music as well.)

Gordon Parks lived a long, productive life - he was 93.

Go here to see a gallery of his wonderful photographs - from the Guardian.

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