(Muhammad Ali, James Brown, et al / DVD / PG-12 / 2010 / Sony Pictures)
Overview: Soul Power is a stunning documentary about the legendary, three day music festival, co-created by musician Hugh Masekela and producer Stewart Levine, in Zaire that accompanied “The Rumble in The Jungle,” the epic, Don King-promoted boxing match that pitted Muhammad Ali against George Foreman.
Blu-ray Verdict: 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. It's making its DVD debut now.
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. [SR] This is a Widescreen presentation (2.35:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Commentary with Director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Music/Festival Producer Stewart Levine