Shaft deserves a “boutique” blu-ray release

Having celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year I was disappointed that SHAFT did not get a celebratory collector’s edition Blu-ray release. With so-called “boutique” distributors such as Criterion, Indicator, BFI and Arrow pushing out high-quality releases of both classic and lesser-known titles with superb packaging, a host of extras and commemorative booklets, it is hard to understand why iconic movies like SHAFT have not received such respectful treatment. Licensing of releases would appear to be one reason. In the US, Warner, who hold the distribution rights to SHAFT and its sequels, has focused primarily on vanilla releases for older titles through its Warner Archive arm – and the 1970s Shaft trilogy is no exception. In the UK, the better known Warner Archive releases have been given superior packaging through HMV’s Premium Collection, but for SHAFT this has only gone as far as adding a few art cards and a slip case.

Image 1 - Shaft (hmv Exclusive) - The Premium Collection [15] Blu-ray

Here in the UK, Indicator is the leading distributor of collectable releases. I have bought a number of their titles and even their Standard Edition releases are packed with extras and are beautifully presented. Their Limited Edition titles add a hefty booklet containing essays, interviews and production information, along with a superb collection of stills. These are real collectables for serious movie fans, collectors and students.

For example, one such title, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE, was packaged in a sturdy box with beautifully reproduced poster artwork. The box contained an 80-page book, which included: cast and crew details; a production overview by Sheldon Hall; a re-production of 1978 and 1979 Photoplay articles including on-set interviews; a 1978 Daily Mail interview with Robert Shaw; a location report culled from a number of sources including material by cinematographer Christopher Challis and uncredited script doctor George MacDonald Fraser; and a selection of contemporary reviews. All this was illustrated with artwork, production stills and a copy of the press release. Five sturdy art cards were included with photographs from the set. Then on the discs themselves (there are two) were the following extras:
– High Definition remasters
– Extended version with original mono audio, and alternative stereo and 5.1 surround options (126 mins)
– Limited edition exclusive presentation of the original theatrical cut, with mono audio (118 mins)
– Audio commentary on the extended version with film historians Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin (2020)
– This Is a Giant Movie (1978, 21 mins): archival location report by Channel Television featuring interviews with producer Oliver A Unger, and actors Edward Fox and Carl Weathers
– Tour de Force (2020, 24 mins): actor Angus MacInnes recalls his early film role
– From Žabljak with Love (2020, 28 mins): the making of the film as told by construction manager Terry Apsey, stuntman Jim Dowdall, grip Dennis Fraser, chief hairdresser Colin Jamison, and chief make-up artist Peter Robb-King
– A Life Behind the Lens (2020, 33 mins): a tribute to the acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Challis, featuring interviews with fellow directors of photography and camera crew Dennis Fraser, Oswald Morris, John Palmer and Sydney Samuelson, as well as archival footage of Challis
– The BEHP Interview with Ron Goodwin (1999, 89 mins): archival video, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring the celebrated composer in conversation with Linda Wood
– A Show of Force (2020, 26 mins): a look at the different versions of Force 10 from Navarone
– Super 8 version: cut-down home cinema presentation
– Original trailers, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery: publicity and promotional material

Now, FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE is an enjoyable movie, but it does not have the level of cultural significance of SHAFT. If Indicator or Criterion managed to get licensing rights to SHAFT they would no doubt provide a release that would do justice to the film’s legacy.

Here is a potential schedule of extras I have drawn up for such a release:
– 4k scan and remaster.
– A 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix. Not sure if this is possible. The current Warner release is in DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 and SHAFT’s sound is notoriously poor. A clean-up job and remix would be expensive and maybe even impossible.
– Audio commentary with Richard Roundtree and/or suitable film historian.
– Soul in the Cinema: Filming SHAFT On Location (1971, 11 mins). A short behind-the-scenes documentary focusing on the directing of Gordon Parks and the musical score by Isaac Hayes. This was included in the Warner release.
– A Complicated Man: The Shaft Legacy (2019, 45 mins). A look at the Shaft franchise in the 1970s including input from Richard Roundtree and a number of film historians and fans, including new Shaft author David F. Walker. This was included in Warner’s Blu-ray release of Tim Story’s 2019 film SHAFT.
– Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks (2000, 91 mins). An intimate look at the life and career of Gordon Parks a true Renaissance man who has excelled as a photographer, novelist, journalist, poet, musician and filmmaker.
– Gordon Parks – Conversations With Black Filmmakers (1990, 20 mins). Interview with Alex Haley.
– Richard Roundtree speaks at SIU, Carbondale, Illinois (2018, 64 mins).
– Newly commissioned profile of Richard Roundtree (New, 45-60 mins). This would be newly shot material.
– Newly commissioned profile of Shaft author Ernest Tidyman including a history of Shaft in print. (New, 30-45 mins)
– Soul Man: Isaac Hayes (2000, 60 mins). BBC documentary. This Close Up special profiles the singer and actor whose Oscar-winning music for SHAFT captured the social, sexual and racial revolutions that were sweeping America in the early seventies. Candid interviews with Hayes, and contributions from colleagues and friends, paint a portrait of one of soul music’s most enduring icons
– Isaac Hayes performing “Shaft” at the 2002 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2002, 5 mins)
– Isaac Hayes winning an Oscar® for “Shaft” (1972, 3 mins).
– Deleted Scenes. If these still exist. We know scenes were shot of Marcy Jonas’ kidnapping and a scene at Ellie Moore’s boutique. These are believed to have been included in the original US TV broadcast in the mid-1970s.
– Original trailer, TV and radio spots
– Image gallery.
– PDF material:  Ernest Tidyman original script; John D.F. Black final shooting script; Production material inc shooting schedule, production design drawings, etc.; Movie Pressbook.
– Commemorative Booklet. Essays; Interviews; Article re-production; Production Notes; Cast & Crew detail; Review Extracts.
– Art cards.
– Movie poster.

Hopefully, sometime soon Warner will look to their “boutique” piers and  SHAFT will get the Blu-ray release it truly deserves.

UPDATE 15/1: No sooner had I posted this than I was made aware that there is a planned Criterion Collection release of SHAFT in a new 4k scan sometime this year.  Artist Bill Sienkiewicz confirmed he was working on the art for the release. So wishes do come true!