It must be the water in Memphis. How else could you explain the abundance of musical talent in that archetypal Southern river town -- Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Sun Records, Robert Johnson, King Curtis, the Bar-Kays, and of course Stax Records, the late, lamented R&B music label that practically defined the word "soul"?
Stax has been defunct since 1974, but its musical roster is so enduringly popular that a new Stax Museum of American Soul Music is opening in Memphis. One of the exhibits in the $20 million museum is a movie, Soulsville, bursting with rare, finger-popping footage of Stax stars in action: Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the MGs, Sam and Dave, the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, plus a chapter on Memphis-based Hi Records, home of Al Green. The hits just keep on coming in director-editor Bob Sarles' masterfully cut, thrill-producing hour-long documentary -- "Soul Man," "Shaft," "Green Onions," "Respect Yourself," plus amazing performance footage of Redding and Sam and Dave, as well as shots from Wattstax, the label's 1972 concert that drew 110,000 to the LA Coliseum.
How do you get to see Soulsville? Go to Memphis; the film is a permanent part of the Stax museum, which opens in May. Or drop by Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley) Tuesday night, March 18 only (7 and 9 p.m. shows) for a special benefit screening. Filmmaker Sarles, who has done extensive cable TV work as well as compilations for the Experience Music Project (Jimi Hendrix) in Seattle and Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was commissioned by the Stax museum to make Soulsville, and has permission to show the film locally on a very limited basis. "We screened it in San Francisco in January," says Sarles from his Ravin' Films office in the city, "and it drew such a crowd that four hundred people were turned away. This will never be broadcast. It's licensed for nonprofit only." Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, and tickets are priced Ashkenaz-style, $10-$20 sliding scale, a bargain for what should be the film event of the year for roots-music aficionados. Info: 510-524-5054.
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