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Funk on film
Part 2


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Funk on film 2: Birth of Blaxploitation

By The Man

2. The Birth of Blaxploitation

At about this time the young trumpeter Quincy Jones was working on scores for a succession of Sidney Poitier movies and several TV series. One of these series happened to star Bill Cosby, a jazz fan who understood funk and was quick to implement it to great effect with Jones with themes for Sanford And Son and Hickey Burr. Jones went on to record the classic funk theme They Call Me Mr Tibbs and the later $ - The Heist - with essential Little Richard cut Money Runner, all issued on LP.

Poitier's movies followed traditional Hollywood lines and his roles were generally 'respectable' characters in white-produced features. This began to change when Melvin Van Peebles had a hit movie in Watermelon Man, which featured a great funk theme. He followed with what is generally regarded as the first 'blaxploitation' feature, Sweet Sweetbacks' Badass Song. Entirely financed, acted and crewed by the black community, its success spawned an entire genre. Stax issued the score for the film, performed by an early incarnation of Earth, Wind And Fire.

Hollywood's response came in the form of the Oscar-winning Shaft. The Oscar wasn't for the movie but for its superb score by longtime Stax artist Isaac Hayes. The album sold over a million copies, ensuring funk's place in film music. The theme sums up the entire movie in three minutes. Tight hi-hat and wah guitar underpin lyrics that simultaneously glamourise and satirise the hero, John Shaft. The movie spawned two sequels and a TV series. The score to the second Shaft movie, Shaft's Big Score, was written in two weeks by the movie's director and it shows. O C Smith and Freddie Hubbard try to funk it up but it's a pale imitation of the original. Without a doubt, from a funk perspective the star of the series is the classic Shaft In Africa by ex-Impressions and jazz arranger Johnny Pate. A great theme by the Four Tops is backed up by two superb instrumentals that should have pride of place in any funk collection. Pate was also responsible for another great funk soundtrack, Brother On The Run, the following year, issued on a scarce LP.

With Hollywood making black movies as well as independent black producers, the demand for suitable music increased. Major soul and funk artists saw an opportunity to express their creativity in new ways through film scores. Artistically speaking, the peak of the funk soundtrack occurred quickly and during 1972 and 1973 several superb scores were issued commercially.

All site contents ©2001 blaxploitation.com. The author has asserted his moral rights. Cover scans, album reviews, all other text content and/or pictures may only be used by prior permission of the.man@blaxploitation.com. But what the hell, I'm a nice guy, so drop me a line!