Directed by Gordon Parks
Running time: 100 minutes
Probably the most successful of all 'Blaxploitation' films, Shaft (1971) was directed by photographer, writer and musician Gordon Parks. It tells the story of John Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree, a violent but super cool private detective looking for the missing daughter of a mobster. Part James Bond, part Black Panther and 'a sex machine with all the chicks', Shaft wears his Afro with pride. One of the first mainstream, big-budget movies that starred black actors, Shaft was targeted specifically at a black audience at a turbulent time in history. Blaxploitation movies were born of the same rage that fuelled the civil rights movement and, equally, the same desire to make change. With its iconic soundtrack by Isaac Hayes (which won a Grammy for Best Original Score), ultra hip scenes from 1970s New York and an array of white bad guys, the film was a huge box office success and a classic of this short-lived genre, spawning various spin-offs and saving MGM from bankruptcy.
Paris is Burning
Directed by Jennie Livingston
Running time: 78 minutes
Seven years in the making, Paris is Burning (1990) is a compelling documentary that chronicles the 'ball' culture of New York City in the 1980s and the transgender communities that are involved with it. Directed by Jennie Livingston, the film explores the rituals within this extrovert subculture, including the competitions whereby contestants dress up as a particular persona and dance or strut a catwalk, posing or 'voguing' (i.e. stopping still for the camera in the manner of a Vogue magazine shoot) along the way. Judged on their verisimilitude to their chosen characters which range from glamorous models to mundane Wall Street businessman or even college students, the most successful participants earned legendary status. Livingston interviews key figures from the 'ball' world, charting their dreams and ambitions and revealing how they often banded together into 'houses' for protection, becoming a surrogate family who all adopted the same surname. Spawning many pop cultural references including Madonna's hit single Vogue, Paris is Burning is considered an insider's view into the 'golden era' of the ball scene in New York and also a poignant exploration of race, class and gender in America at large.
Reservation is not necessary, but places are limited. Please arrive early to avoid disappointment.