Across 110th Street
It is not often that one song can span a period of twenty-five years, breathing life into the soundtrack of two important films, and also define the solo career of a great blues and soul vocalist.
In the early 1970’s, I saw a film called ‘Across 110th Street’. This was one of the new style of gritty police and crime dramas to emerge from the American film industry at that time. They were different, in that they gave black actors leading roles, and importantly, roles as the hero as well. They also used contemporary funky music as the soundtrack, attracting the leading artists of the day. Some examples include ‘Shaft’, starring Richard Roundtree, with a score by Isaac Hayes, and ‘Superfly’, starring Ron O’Neal, with Curtis Mayfield providing the music. All released within a year or two of the start of the decade, they had a big impact at the time, and the title songs of the films, released as singles, enjoyed huge success.
‘Across 110th Street’ had a title song, and other music, provided by Bobby Womack. This singer, songwriter and accomplished musician had been around since the very early 1960’s, and his career had spanned so many different kinds of music, from Gospel to Jazz. He has collaborated with many famous recording artists, from Aretha Franklin, to Chaka Khan, and Janis Joplin, and he continues to work and perform, to this day. The film itself was very good, but there was no doubt that the whole mood and atmosphere was set by the soundtrack, and the two became intertwined.
In 1997, when the song (and in many ways the original film) was more or less consigned to history, it was picked up and used by a new film maker, one of the brightest talents to recently arrive in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino. He made a film based on Elmore Leonard’s book, ‘Rum Punch’, and called it ‘Jackie Brown’. He not only revived this record, but also the failing career of a former ‘Blaxploitation’ actress, the lovely Pam Grier. Twenty-five years after watching ‘Across 110th Street’, I went to see ‘Jackie Brown’ in the cinema, and I was immediately blown away by what I saw. Using Bobby Womack’s original recording, Tarantino compiles one of the best opening sequences in modern cinema, with Pam Grier’s character traversing an airport, on her way to work as a stewardess.
Two films. a generation apart, both lifted and given power by one soul song. It is magical stuff indeed.
Here is that intro, that took my breath away.