Soul Power [Blu-ray] (Sous-titres français) [Import]
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You hold in your hands a backstage pass to one of the most extraordinary concert events ever filmed. Featuring musical legends James Brown, B.B. King, Bill Withers, Celia Cruz and a host of others, SOUL POWER documents the three-night Zaire ’74 music festival planned to coincide with the now-legendary and epic “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Much more than a concert film, Soul Power provides a dynamic fly-on-the-wall look into the turbulent proceedings, with on-the-spot commentary from the musicians themselves, concert organizers Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter extraordinaire Don King, Soul Power will leave you breathless.
While Leon Gast captured the "Rumble in the Jungle" in his Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, his editor, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, using Gast's original footage, preserves the music portion of the event in Soul Power. In 1974 Stewart Levine and Hugh Masekela organized a three-day festival to celebrate African and African-American music in conjunction with the heavyweight bout. Just as Gast provided glimpses of the musicians, Levy-Hinte provides glimpses of promoter Don King and Muhammad Ali preparing for the day in which Ali would reclaim the championship from George Foreman. About Zaire, the fighter enthuses, "The people are so peaceful, and they're no nice. New York is more of a jungle than here!" (Foreman is conspicuous by his absence.) Levy-Hinte also adds scenes of Kinshasa's street life, concert preparations in New York, and backstage chatter, but the performances, which would benefit from onscreen titles, provide the highlights. Among them: the Spinners ("One of a Kind"); B.B. King ("The Thrill Is Gone"); Bill Withers ("Hope She'll Be Happier"); Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars ("Quimbara"); Masekela's wife, Miriam Makeba ("The Click Song"); and especially James Brown ("Cold Sweat"), who sports a denim jumpsuit with "GFOS"--Godfather of Soul--emblazoned in studs. Adding to the fun, Brown's hype man introduces him by proclaiming, "This man will make your liver quiver; this man will make your bladder splatter!" And keep an eye out for Sister Sledge in rehearsal and George Plimpton at the press conference. Extras include deleted scenes and commentary from Levy-Hinte and Levine. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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In 1974 Muhammad Ali was scheduled to fight George Foreman in Zaire to to regain the Heavyweight title. The promoter of the fight was the always-colorful Don King. In conjunction with the fight a large concert was planned featuring American and African and Latin pop stars. A few weeks before, Foreman cut himself and the fight had to be postponed. But there was money to be made on the concert so - with private financing from some Liberians - the concert went on. This film is a documentary on the staging of the concert. Its making its DVD debut here.
If you are looking for a "Woodstock" experience or even "Wattstax", you might be disappointed. Less than 40% of the screen time is devoted to musical performances. In fact, except for an opening number by James Brown, there is no music footage for the first 33 minutes of this 93-minute film. There is a lot of the planning - especially when the "money man" has some issues - and setting up the stage. And there is Ali talking about the race issue in the US (in his trademark rhymes).
When we get to the concert, things kick in with some incredible - and sometimes unusual - performances. Bill Withers plays a solo acoustic guitar in a strong vocal performance. Miriam Makeba explains her "Click Song". The Fania All Stars (with Celia Cruz) and the Crusaders do their thing and B.B. King does his "Thrill is Gone" for the umpteenth time. Surprisingly the performers are never identified until the closing credits! Some of the performers are not known in the US and, even those that are (Withers, for example) will be new to younger viewers.
No performer gets more than one song - except Brown, who gets two.
Bonus features include a commentary track by the Director and Festival Producer and 42 minutes of Deleted Scenes. These scenes include five minutes of rehearsals (mostly Cruz) and one performance by Sister Sledge (who do not perform in the released film). And then there is the best three minutes on the whole disc: James Brown, in a hot and SWEATY performance of "Try Me". Why this was deleted is a mystery to me but it's a classic moment and captured in amazing close-ups.
So, as a documentary this film serves its purpose of capturing this period in time and place. But there is less music than some might hope for so know that you probably won't be watching it through multiple times (like "Woodstock" or "Wattstax"). But its great to have it available.
1. So little music. The film is short, and the first half is documentary footage with special emphasis on the guys setting up the lights (feel free to fast forward). One example is the Celia Cruz performance on the plane, which they intercut with the lighting guys miles away to try to kill the mood. The other acts are all only given one song, showing the producers' disinterest in the great African music before their eyes. Which brings us to
2. No Congo perspective. The film gives us the Americans Abroad view, them happy to be there and do the concert. When Africans are shown, they are in crowds and what they say is never translated. The deleted scenes take this to extremes, with exoticized images of anonymous markets (where are they?), letting the people chatter away with no subtitles. Imagine making a documentary in a foreign country and not interviewing even a single person from there. Who was Mobutu and why was this concert held? You'll never find out from this DVD.
Presumably the rest of the footage exists, and maybe someday we'll get a decent DVD, including, say, a 30-minute doc of behind-the-scenes footage with the Congolese, the Americans, the Cubans, and how it all went down; separately, at least 2 hours of main concert performances; 30 minutes of jamming and sound checks (the 5 minutes of this on the deleted scenes is a highlight of the current DVD).
In addition to the music festival and boxing championship, a movie would document the creation of this event which would be known as "Zaire 74" and the documentary which would be known as "Soul Power" would be directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte would be released in 2008. The documentary covers the music festival while the fight was covered in the 1996 documentary "When We Were Kings"(producers of this documentary also produced "Soul Power") which featured the championship match between Ali and Foreman.
"Zaire 74" looked very promising until the last minute when George Foreman had an injury which would postpone the boxing match for three weeks and thus the audience of expected international tourists was eliminated.
So, now the creators of the event have a difficult decision. To go on with the music festival or not? Featuring talent such as James Brown, BB King, The Spinners and African performers such as Miriam Makeba, TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and many other performers such as Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars to other celebrities including Muhammad Ali and Don King. With so much invested, stages have been built...there was only one decision that could be made. The show must go on!
"Soul Power" documents the festival from what took place before the event, the challenges the crew faced especially hearing from the Foreman camp, to the meeting between the talent and the performers performing a song onstage.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"Soul Power" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). One thing that I did notice that this film, now over 35-years later appears with a lot of grain. Personally, this was no problem for me as a lot of music-based concerts from the 70's have this look and personally, I would have it with the grain than without (ala DNR - Digital Noise Reduction). Of course, there are people who are going to complain about the amount of grain (ie. "The French Connection) but personally, I rather have a grainy look than a waxy, cloudy look due to DNR.
But for the most part, it was great to see everyone during this time period. A time capsule of a time of seeing a music festival being created in Zaire. You see quite a bit of earth tone colors and a good amount of detail of the people up front and close especially with Muhammad Ali and James Brown.
As for audio, the documentary is featured in English and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1. The first half of "Soul Power" is dialogue driven. Many of the crew and talent building the set, communicating to each other, talking on the phones, to the camera, etc. Dialogue is clear and understandable (albeit people talking over each other at times). I noticed even surround usage for crowd ambiance and other effects. Of course, it's when you reach the second half and that is where the film shifts to the music performances. Audio sounds fantastic and there is good amount of bass. Good use of the entire soundscape as the lossless audio just sounds vibrant and crisp. Overall, people interested in this film should be happy with the lossless audio.
Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
"Soul Power" comes with the following special features presented in standard definition in stereo with optional Portuguese and Spanish subtitles:
* Commentary with Director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Music/Festival Producer Stewart Levine - The commentary by both Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Stewart Levine is quite interesting. If anything, the film is definitely nostalgic as they see themselves back in 1974 and reminisce about certain scenes and discuss the creation of the music festival and the talents that performed at the music festival. Pretty much an informative commentary especially from Levine who gives some detail on the actual music festival itself.
* Deleted Scenes - (42:11) A total of nine lengthy deleted scenes including additional performances from other artists featured in the film.
* Theatrical Trailer - (1:57) The original theatrical trailer.
The release of "Soul Power" is quite interesting. Especially with a lot of music festivals on DVD and Blu-ray were typically rock-based releases. This is the first documentary/film I have seen covering soul music. I've always heard and seen footage from "Zaire 74' but mainly about the actual events leading up to the "Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match between Ali and Foreman. Of course, there was another concert that took place in Ghana and was released on DVD titled "Soul to Soul" feature Ike and Tina Turner and many other talent which has not been released on Blu-ray but to see "Soul Power" look and sound so good on Blu-ray is fantastic.
The first half for me was very enjoyable as we see the challenges that the crew had to face in putting on this festival but also seeing Muhammad Ali being himself and just producing this continuous flow of words that he just doesn't even hesitate as he talks about America's perception of Africa and then what he saw in Africa and how peaceful it was versus what he has experienced in New York. It was also great to see James Brown because so much footage we have seen is of a later James Brown but what a great opportunity to see him and many other musical talented perform but also to hear it in lossless audio.
Memorable scenes include BB King performing "The Thrill is Gone", The Spinners, Celia Cruz and the gang just jamming on the airplane ride to Zaire and a wonderful performance by Miram Makeba and a wonderful ending performance as James Brown performs "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)". Audience was definitely into the performance and for the most part, an energetic vibe on the concert end but a seemingly stressful side on the production end as the crew had their hands tied up on making this festival happen.
Many may be wondering if there is a big difference between the "Masters of Cinema" Blu-ray release and the Sony Pictures Classic version. The MoC (UK) version comes with an exclusive video interview with the director plus extra concert footage of James Brown, Sister Sledge and the Pointer Sisters. These additional performances are featured in the deleted scenes of the US release but the MoC version also includes a 36-page booklet which are not included in this Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray release.
Overall, it's wonderful to have this documentary released on Blu-ray. With so much attention on the Ali and Foreman fight featured in the "When We Were Kings" documentary, it was great to see that there was a lot of footage from the Zaire 74 festival especially behind-the-scenes on the production end.
If you are a big fan of soul music, "Soul Power" is a Blu-ray worth owning!
Folks, if you're like me, and you like the artists, and you Love Ali, then "Soul Power" is a must see!
I give it a 10.
And to add insult to injury for the perfomers. They aren't credited until the end of the film.
I thought they would at least show some of the drama that was touched on in "When We Were Kings" between James Brown, Don King and Lloyd Price. We can only imagine King and Price asking Brown to stay in Zaire a few weeks until Foreman's injury heals. And we can only imagine what Brown's responce was, who has a more dominating personality than even Don King. And a special mention to the mighty JB's, Bill Withers, Big Black, Miriam Makeba and Celia Cruz . Check out the deleted scenes and James Brown's performance of Try Me. Brown's singing has always been underated and unappreciated. But the power and nuances he showed in this vocal performance I would rate with some of the best!
The sound in the film is great. The vocal microphones pickup every breath the performers take with superb clarity. The picture quality is fair with a lot of grain that I assume is from the type of film stock they used. Did they get a discount on high speed film? LOL!
I think a better title for this film should've been "The Making Of Soul Power".