Palatable: Shaft

Shaft (1971)
Directed by Gordon Parks
Written by Ernest Tidyman, John D.F. Black
Produced by Joel Freeman, Roger H. Lewis, David Golden, Ernest Tidyman, Stirling Silliphant
Starring Richard Roundtree, Charles Cioffi, Moses Gunn, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell
Silliphant, Lewis, et al. were wise to work the Blaxploitation trend at its inception without overproducing this infamously gritty crime drama, in which the tough, eponymous Harlem P.I. (Roundtree) is employed to locate the kidnapped daughter of an aging crime lord (Gunn) with the abetment of a black power gang’s honcho (St. John) and a sympathetic police detective (Cioffi) who affords him an absurd measure of liberty. Through Parks’ keen eye, sweeping pans, picturesque tracking, irruptive zooms and striking overhead establishing shots magnify venereal and investigatory montages just as well as a few cleverly concocted action sequences in squalid slums all too familiar to the masterly photojournalist. Most of the pic’s appeal hinges on Roundtree, all surly sinew and sex appeal in the lead, and it’s just as well: his enormous presence almost obscures that of his co-stars. Issac Hayes’ celebrated, superbly arranged score is its other indispensable ingredient, still funkily appealing in its playful audacity 45 years later. Certainly the lesser of his two scripts successfully adapted to the screen in ’71, Tidyman’s trickishly plotted story only ages so well: his dialogue’s as dated as the decor, though its antiquation’s countervailed by credible delivery. For a crudely cut exploitation picture intended for consumption by a target audience of young black men, Parks’ most enduring feature is not only broadly entertaining, but easily the best of its genre…and a vivid snapshot of Harlem’s squalor decades anteceding its gentrification.

Sublime: Missing

Missing (1982)
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Written by Thomas Hauser, Costa-Gavras, Donald Stewart, John Nichols
Produced by Edward Lewis, Mildred Lewis, Peter Guber, Jon Peters, Terence Nelson
Starring Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, John Shea, Melanie Mayron, Charles Cioffi, Janice Rule, David Clennon, Richard Bradford, Keith Szarabajka, Joe Regalbuto, Richard Venture
A tragic mystery associative to purges executed in the aftermath of a military putsch in unidentified Chile assumes a familial dimension when a curmudgeonly businessman (Lemmon) rendezvous with the wife (Spacek) of his son, an inquisitive filmmaker and freelance correspondent (Shea) who’s suddenly vanished without trace or report. With the aid of his surviving friends (Mayron, Szarabajka), ingratiatory consuls (Clennon, Doolittle), a few eyewitnesses and an investigative presswoman (Rule), their inquiry unveils both the ultimate fate of their kin and extent of the U.S. State Department’s intergovernmental complicity and obscurantism. Costa-Gavras’ skillful coalescence of interpersonal drama and political conspiracy is no less carking or captivating here for its moneyed polish than in his French pictures: graphic reenactments of Pinochet’s sanguineous coup, the ructions and hecatombs of its tyrannic wake and a personal percontation prosecuted in homes, hospitals, an embassy and a charnel house in the Greek dissident’s peak picture hit as hard as any he’s fashioned, swelled by one of Vangelis’ best synthesized scores. Neither did he forfeit any of his trademark craft or subtlety, demonstrating both innocent and deliberate contrarieties between account and actuality with cutbacks and narrations that further obfuscate the means by which the irrevocable’s committed. Heading an invariably terrific cast, Lemmon and Spacek are superb, slowly and credibly transitioning from an adversarial to affectionate relation as the former’s reproving yet principled father bonds with his daughter-in-law, perceives in his son’s output his total substance, and realizes himself as naif for his initial credulity regarding his government’s integrity as was his boy in the conviction that American identity is unconditionally salvational. Almost as unsettling as the outdoor omnipresence of soldiers, public plentiousness of cadavers and stridence of gunshots and helicopters conducing a miasmic evocation, Venture and Cioffi unnerve as an ambassador whose geniality turns to glacial severity and a creepily underhanded Navy captain, as does Bradford as a deviously obscure military operative, and one of the lost individual’s last known interlocutors. As an allegorical denunciation of both the Pinochean junta and their American allies, and history of a pathetic incident, Gavras’ most proclaimed feature also emphasizes a caveat of conduct: in an event of martial law, inquisition is less risky than suicidal.