Not so much a documentary as a cinematic portal to the early 1970s, “Soul Power” is really a concert film that wants to be a little bit more.
How successful it is at that is up for debate. It’s certainly not trying to make any sort of political statement, though there’s a section with Muhammad Ali rambling on about ghettos and countries coming together and becoming united and so on. George Foreman, his opponent in that match, is conspicuously absent from this production.
It’s mostly just a camera turned onto an event that’s remembered more for the boxing match that sparked it than the one-of-a-kind festival it became. Aside from a brief note about the concert’s genesis at the beginning of the film, there’s no narration, or even much of a story. It’s simply “they did this concert,” turned on the camera, and followed the principals around for awhile until the concert was over.
The film’s final two-thirds integrates concert footage, where American stars and African artists traded off for what became a three-day music festival, with shots of locals inspired by the display of unity between African-Americans and native Africans.
There are sequences where some of the artists discuss “coming home” after years in America and noting the differences and similarities of growing up in different environments. Hearing their stories are certainly more interesting than watching the promoters blather on about how great everything will be, or seeing them construct the staging, but isn’t particularly compelling cinema.
The non-musical highlight of the film, though, is B.B. King watching Ali work out, then hop in the ring himself to spar a little bit. It’s a funny segment, and you get the distinct feeling that once the gloves were on King took it much more seriously than Ali.
The concert footage is good, and takes up the latter two-thirds of the film, but still seems short. Fans of the music of B.B. King, James Brown, and their ilk might get a thrill out of seeing them perform again, if briefly: the artists, except the Godfather of Soul, get but one song, then on to the next performer. Brown gets about 10-15 minutes in his hey-hurt-me, splits-and-spins prime during the film’s finale.
In all, “Soul Power” is hardly an earth-shattering film, and I’ll leave it up to you whether you think it’s worth laying down cinema prices for what amounts to archival news footage pieced together as a film. But it’s got its own brand of funk, and is worth watching at some point, even if you wait for DVD.
Rating: 3 Yaps