Documentary captures heavyweights of ‘Soul Power’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 30, 2009 2:39pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

By Robert Horton

Herald Movie Critic

Heat wave? You call this a heat wave? Try Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974, at the outdoor music concert organized in conjunction with the legendary Ali-Foreman fight.

Not only did the thermometer soar well over 100 during this weekend festival, but the heat generated by some of music’s leading acts really steamed up the place too. That’s how it looks in “Soul Power,” a glorious documentary about the event.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because the footage in “Soul Power” was originally shot as part of the same project that became the 1996 film “When We Were Kings,” which concentrated on the heavyweight championship bout in Zaire (now called Congo).

The concert was planned to coincide with the fight hoopla, but when George Foreman sustained an eye injury and the match was postponed for six weeks, the music went on as scheduled.

The first part of the film shows the organization of the concert, which looks cheerfully disorganized. It seems miraculous when everybody gets loaded onto a plane headed for Africa (the impromptu in-flight music sessions look truly spontaneous, not staged).

What Muhammad Ali was to the boxing documentary, James Brown is to “Soul Power.” True, the hardest-working man in show business was always half crazy, but he was also a dynamo of peppy one-liners and right-on

affirmations. And that’s just in press conferences; on stage, as the festival’s headliner, he’s his usual wall-shaking self.

By the way, Ali fans need not worry: The Greatest is very much on view in this movie, and in wonderful form. So fast, so funny, and lethally precise when the subject of race comes up.

The second half of the film is primarily concert footage — great, sweltering stuff. We get Bill Withers, B.B. King and The Spinners (always underrated, I think, maybe because they were so polished and popular). Salsa queen Celia Cruz turns up the heat, too.

And African music is part of the bill, including the legendary Miriam Makeba. Director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, who sifted through the decades-old footage, has brutally pared the concert stuff down to one song or so per act.

It works for the flow of the movie, but of course leaves you wanting more. It’s guaranteed that every person who sees this film will walk out hoping there’s more footage on an upcoming DVD.

With this footage, make sure you stay until the end — there’s a James Brown gem hidden there. Just the right touch for this joyful experience.

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