Sweet soul music. There’ve been more cameras trained on classic
soul performers in the last three years than you can shake
a stick at. Only The Strong Survive is the corporate
entry in this genre, helmed by widely admired documentarians
Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker for Miramax.
It is hard to screw up with such rich subject matter, and
you’ll be glad to know that the filmmakers don’t, though neither
do they provide as rich a treatment as last year’s Standing
In The Shadows Of Motown.
They sure tried, though. Their mistake was attempting to
create the same sort of root-for-these-underdogs vibe. Only
The Strong Survive follows legendary artists (Sam Moore
of Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Mary Wilson,
Wilson Pickett, Ann Peebles, Jerry Butler, the Chi-Lites,
Isaac Hayes) as they tour in cut-rate nostalgia shows
or perform in small hometown venues, cutting interviews between
present and past performance glory. These are folks who’ve
been heard of. They may have lost fame, but, unlike The
Funk Brothers, they had it to lose.
Nevertheless, if this music was the wallpaper of your young
life, you’ll have a good time. These folks can still dish
out the mighty funk they were known for, and some have aged
like fine wine. Ann Peebles’ performance was electrifying
stuff. But I’m thinking, “Why did this need to be a movie?”
It could easily have been a radio show instead or a box set
CD that I’d lay the money down for. There’s much to hear,
but not a lot to see. The only thing about it that screamed
“visual necessity” is that these folks are getting along in
years and one wants a document for posterity.