Jul 7, 2009

James Brown and the Boston he saved

With Jeffery Levy-Hinte's magnificent Zaire 74' doc Soul Power hitting theaters this weekend (look for my interview with him in the forthcoming issue of Filmmaker), BAM's Afro Punk Festival is serving up a wonderful appetizer for the Godfather of Soul's most ardent fans - David Leaf's The Night James Brown Saved Boston. The seventy-five minute doc, which has been playing occasionally on VH1 and bouncing around the black festival circuit (I first saw it at last year's Martha's Vineyard Black Film Festival) after a premiere at South By Southwest, recounts Brown's April 5th, 1968 concert at the Boston Garden, the night after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN.

The show, which was televised throughout the Boston area, proved a cathartic one for a vengeful and deeply disillusioned black community. Many credit Brown's mournful, forthright charisma in the face of such tragedy with having spared Boston from the massive urban riots that quickly swept the land in the aftermath of King's death. Featuring interviews with contemporary black public figures like Cornel West and Al Sharpton (sigh...), the film screens tonight at 9:30.