Gordon Park's genre-defining crime drama, Shaft, opens with a claustrophobic shot of one of New York's concrete canyons. We hear the street sounds of Manhattan as the 1960s gave way to the '70s. Tires skid, engines rev, and horns honk as the camera pans down past a number of cinema marquees advertising films like The Scalphunters, a western starring Burt Lancaster, a British skin flick called School for Sex, and The Animal, a true(ish), plucked-from-the-tabloids story about a perverse urban voyeur with shocking plans. Then, moments before our hero enters, the urban noise gives way to the sound of Willie Hall's drumsticks hammering out eighth notes on a hi-hat cymbal and Skip Pitts' iconic, Cry Baby-laden guitar. A mustachioed man in a sweet leather trench coat emerges from the subway and walks right into a street thick with cabs, cursing at the ones that don't stop for him. This is Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, the complicated private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks. He's a bad mother, with one of the baddest theme song's in cinema history.
This week, film and music fans can explore Shaft and its Academy Award-winning theme from two different perspectives. On Monday, April 25th, Indie Memphis concludes its Soul Cinema series with a free screening at the Stax Museum. Then, on Wednesday, April 27th, former Stax and Royal Studio musicians team up with members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra for the Hot Buttered Symphony, a concert and conversation exploring the deep relationship between Shaft composer Isaac Hayes and Memphis' classical music set. Because, if a man's going to risk his neck for his brother man, he needs a strong woodwind section.
The Hot Buttered Symphony will be moderated by John T. Bass and Allie Johnson of Rhodes College.