MR. SOUL! – A Review by John Strange
There once was a program that quietly demonstrated and softly raged against a society that desperately needed to understand its message. The program was the brainchild of Ellis Haizlip, a quiet man who seemed to know everyone and was respected by all who knew him. He was not a journalist but his quiet way of talking to anyone and everyone brought out their thoughts and feelings because he was that rarest of beings, a good listener.
That show was Soul!, developed for and produced at the WNET (later WNDT) studios in New York City. Ellis was the show’s producer and though he never intended to get in front of the camera, he soon took over hosting the black-oriented variety/talk show. He originally had a co-host, Loretta Long, who left to take on the role of Susan Robinson on Sesame Street.
The show became an extension of his taste and what taste he had. Musical acts like Gladys Knight, Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, Tito Puente, and Stevie Wonder. Interviews with such notables as Muhammad Ali, Stokely Carmichael, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, and James Baldwin. Poetry and discussions of film, music, dance, and theater with some politics thrown in.
This show was so far ahead of its time that it took the commercial networks literally decades to begin to come close. The music was from up-and-coming groups and persons we now see in the various musical Hall’s of Fame. Actors and actresses who were involved in the political movement of the time who are also renowned for their exquisite performances on stage and screen. They all were welcomed on Soul!.
This film was written, directed, and produced by Melissa Haizlip. This is a work of love. It has an excellent flow filled with music, poetry, and conversations taken from archival footage from the show interspersed with anecdotes and stories from the artists and crew from the show. This is a 5-star homage to a show whose 5-year run was too short and may have ended due to political wrangling at the highest levels of our government. Regardless of the number of episodes, Soul! gave us a treasure that needs to be remembered and emulated today.
In fact, I would love to see PBS resurrect the series and re-run it across the nation on all of their affiliate stations for all of us to see.
Directed by: Melissa Haizlip, Sam Pollard
Cast: Ellis Haizlip, Gladys Knight, Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Kathleen Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, Harry Belafonte, Sonia Sanchez, George Faison, The Last Poets, Alvin Ailey and more
Narrator: Blair Underwood
MPAA Rating: NR
Selig Rating: 5 Stars
Runtime: 104 Min.
Opening in virtual cinemas: August 28, 2020
Local Partnering Cinemas: Alamo Drafthouse
Movie Site: mrsoulmovie.com
Trailer: Mr. Soul! Trailer
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.