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Preview Image for Soul Power: The Masters of Cinema Series
Soul Power: The Masters of Cinema Series (Blu-ray Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000123430
Added by: David Beckett
Added on: 13/11/2009 22:02
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    Soul Power

    7 / 10

    Muhammad Ali was involved in some huge fights throughout his illustrious career and travelled the world boxing the very best fighters of his generation. The biggest and most celebrated of all these fights was the 'Rumble in the Jungle', an event organised by Don King to take the heavyweight championship fight to Zaire with Ali challenging the then unbeaten Champion, George Foreman. Securing finance for the fight from President Mobutu, King envisioned a celebration of Africa with a three day concert of African-American and African artists before the fight. Things didn't go as planned, with Foreman sustaining a cut in training, so the fight was postponed, but the concert, Zaire '74, still went ahead.
    Mobutu wouldn't pay for the concert, but a Liberian investment fund agreed to finance it and artists such as James Brown, Bill Withers and B.B. King flew out from the U.S. to meet their African counterparts, get back to their roots, and put on an unforgettable show.

    Inline Image

    Though the build-up to the concert and the event itself was filmed for a documentary, promotional squabbles and legal battles meant the film, Soul Power, never got shown. Leon Gast intended to use some of the footage to accompany his Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, but it was too long and ungainly so he concentrated his film on the fight. Years later, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte sourced the material (with which he was familiar as he was Gast's editor on Kings) to make the film that Gast couldn't.
    Showing the organisational difficulties, including luggage and equipment getting sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had no diplomatic relations with Zaire, seeing if Zaire '74 could be postponed following Foreman's injury, and the communication difficulties, the build-up was extremely hectic and fraught. This isn't a concert film like Woodstock, Gimme Shelter or The Last Waltz, but a piece that shows the logistics of staging such an event with a selection of performance at the end. Soul Power is interspersed with footage of Muhammad Ali at his training camp and mixing with the musicians and locals, demonstrating both his quick hands and quick tongue.
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    I'm not a big soul music fan but really enjoyed this as the timing of the fight allowed the great and the good of soul to congregate when they were at or around the peak of their powers. The performances by B.B. King, The Spinners and James Brown are superb and the huge line-up delivers a great mix of music.
    Soul Power is an extremely well crafted documentary that only suffers because of the sheer number of people involved and the inevitable comparisons with When We Were Kings. There is no central character and it's strange that George Foreman doesn't even feature, though this could be because he wasn't as media-savvy and outgoing as Ali and was nowhere near as interesting or controversial.

    The Disc

    Extra Features
    There are five different deleted scenes which are really interesting but, annoyingly, have to be selected individually as there is no Play All function. The same goes for the extra concert footage, which is an enjoyable watch, but the navigation is a bit of a pain.
    The new interview with director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte is too brief at just over two minutes, but the questions are well chosen and he answers them fully. It's a shame he didn't provide a commentary, as I would have liked to hear his thoughts in more detail and at greater length.
    You also get the theatrical trailer and a booklet which maintains The Masters of Cinema series' reputation for producing excellent product.
    Inline Image

    The Picture
    As you'd expect from something 35 years old and not shot on the best equipment, the picture has fine grain throughout, though I'd much prefer this than something that had been subject to a massive amount of DNR and lost detail. The documentary is extremely well edited, with Levy-Hinte choosing well from the hundreds of hours of footage available and the editing keeps the interest throughout, cutting from concert preparation to press conference and hectic negotiations.
    The Sound
    You have the option of Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks and these clearly have the edge over the stereo, with much more bass and the rear surrounds even come into play during the concert for crowd noise.  Of the two surround options, the DTS track just has the edge with more bass and slightly better separation.
    There are excellent English HoH subtitles available which provide the lyrics and there are also Identifier titles, so you know who people are.

    Final Thoughts
    Soul Power is a tremendous package of a fine documentary and, whilst the extra features may be a little skimpy and a commentary would have been a very welcome addition, fans of both soul music and When We Were Kings should check this out as a companion piece.
    I'm not sure that Jeffrey Levy-Hinte is really a master of cinema, having only directed one film and edited another - his career is mostly as a producer - but I'm not arguing as this film gets the full MoC treatment.

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