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Blu-Ray Review: Deaf Crocodile’s Solomon King (Collector’s Edition) 

Solomon King

Move over Dolomite… Solomon King is here to take names and kick some ass!  Deaf Crocodile continues their amazing streak of vital and brilliant film curation with the release of this Blaxploitation Classic on Blu-Ray.

The Film

I’ve said this before here on the site.  I’ll say it again and again and again…

Gods bless Deaf Crocodile. 

Case in point: Solomon King!!!

They spent countless hours and money in order to find the materials necessary to bring this nearly forgotten and almost lost Blaxploitation Classic back to life.  And back to life, Solomon King is!  He – and his film – are ready to take on “the man” and kick some ass.

Solomon King lands somewhere between the work of Rudy Ray Moore and Jack Hill.  Sal Watts stars, writes, produces, edits, and directs the film with the type of 1970s documentary style set by director Gordon Parks.  Though here it’s more out of a need than an actual choice.  No matter, Watts manages to force his way through the narrative that has something to do with oil reserves Solomon King and his brother own and a White but maybe Arab Evil Boss that wants those oil reserves.  What this White but maybe Arab Evil Boss doesn’t realize is that Solomon King – who in a previous life was an ex-CIA operative – doesn’t take shit from nobody.  That includes his old white boss at the CIA or no White but maybe Arab Evil Boss.  Lots of slow-motion action, song and dance numbers/montages ensue until Solomon has righted every wrong, and double-cross.  

Movies like Solomon King are as much time capsules as they are movies.  Oftentimes movies of this budget and independently produced work more as kitschy looks back at what an era really looked like.  Luckily, for anyone who unsuspectingly watches the film it works both as a hard-driving actioner and a look back at a bygone era.  In fact, a receptive audience will find themselves rooting, laughing, hooting, and hollering for our hero. 

Solomon King deserves to be seen with a rowdy and receptive audience. Or this perfectly rendered Blu-Ray edition… with some good friends and equally good libations! 

The Transfer 

This verbiage comes up as you begin the feature: 

After an extensive investigation, we believe the original negative (and all other printing elements) for SOLOMON KING are sadly gone forever.

This restoration was made from one of the only complete 35mm Eastman Kodak Prints, generously provided by the UCLA Film & TV Archive, and the original 35mm track negative from the collection of Belinda Burton-Watts / Estate of Sal Watts.

As with most prints from the era, it had faded pink and was considerably damaged.  Best Efforts have been made to bring SOLOMON KIND back to its original form and quality.  However, we were limited by the source material available.  You may notice occasional jump cuts, and severe scratches – particularly at the head of reel 4.

Thank you for your understanding.

It is through these types of transparent statements that Deaf Crocodile just elevates them above even some of the best Boutique Labels.

Hats off to the team at Deaf Crocodile including Restoration Producers Craig Rogers & Dennis Bartok.  This restoration by the team at Deaf Crocodile from the only known complete 35mm print looks outright amazing.  Especially when you consider or have seen the state that the film was in when DC went to work – watch the special feature on the Restoration of the film for full context.  “Major Miracle” is a phrase that comes to mind.  The film without exception looks beautiful on Blu-Ray.  Yes, the reel 4 scratches and blemishes can be noticed but only if you’re really looking for them.  The first time I watched the film I did not notice the issues; it was only the second viewing did I see these minor defects.  

The Extras 

They include the following;

  • New commentary track by film critic and historian Walter Chaw (Film Freak Central, A Walter Hill Film – MZS Press)
  • New commentary track by author, journalist, and documentary film producer Steve Ryfle (Ishiro Honda – Wesleyan University Press)
  • 2022 Interview with Belinda Burton-Watts
  • Restoration Demo
  • 2022 Trailer 

The first of two all-new commentaries is by film critic and historian Walter Chaw opens with a discussion of the communal work with many famous Oakland artists and icons to help create Sal Watts’s magnum opus.  Some of the details include a historical account of Watts other ventures before he began Solomon King, the owner of the Maserati that features so prominently, Watts inspiration from the Blaxploitation movement, how his military service informed the script, the socio-political themes that are smartly set up by not only the script but casting, clothing, and production design, a historical account of the rise of Blaxploitation, a discussion of Watermelon ManCotton Comes to Harlem, and Sweet Sweetback’s Daadasssss Song – and how this success brought studio greed and lesser product that was less political, other Blaxploitation films that are great and fascinating – for anyone that has not seen some of the luminaires of the genre get your pen ready, discussion of the change and eventual ending of the Blaxploitation movement and how it evolved into filmmakers like Robert Townsend and Spike Lee, the café Dellah’s – and its importance of 1970s Oakland culture, a great account of how the Solomon King restoration began, Donald Vogel – a film scholar that focus on Black Cinema and his book, the desexualization of POCs as a whole in cinema, an arresting conversation about Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood – which leads to a bigger conversation about modern films and viewing films like Solomon King and the perfect imperfections of films like it, a discussion of filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, a look at just how powerful Solomon King is as a film showing what is so vital today with representation beyond comic book movies, and much more.  The track is not just good it’s a vital listen for anyone that is passionate about the dissection of cinema and what makes it important.  Chaw comes armed with everything you could possibly want to know – including quotes from various sources – not just about Solomon King but the Blaxploitation genre and Black Cinema as a whole. The track is very personal, informative, entertaining, and all around a great track. 

The second of the all-new commentaries is by author, journalist, and documentary film producer Steve Ryfle begins with a welcoming and his thesis for the commentary track and his bona fides.  Some of the details include a history of Sal Watts and how he came to film Solomon King, the friendship between Watts and James Watts – who was not related to director Watts, the energy crisis during this time and how it was contextual to the film, the small but very important touchstones Watts imbues into the black characters that make all the differences with showing a different view, his military history – as according to his widow, how films like Solomon King were essentially an act of political rebellion, the building of Watts’s empire before making the film, the narrative that Watts wanted about his life – excerpts taken from the press kit (which is included in the booklet of this release), a history of the city of Oakland up until where the city is currently with gentrification – and specifically the history of Black culture, The Mack – which was released at the time and how it was more popular than Solomon King but also how different the productions were but also how that production raised the ire of the Black Panther party, an interesting conversation of the similarity and differences between the similarly produced Dolomite, and much more.  Ryfle’s track is a perfect complement to Chaw’s commentary track.  Where Chaw’s is more cinema-focused, Ryfle’s is more historically minded.  It is not to say that either cross over but it is nice to see how much information is given between the two tracks.  It’s definitely, required listening.  

2022 Interview with Belinda Burton-Watts – this all-new three-part video interview with Burton-Watts discusses her late husband’s rise from his humble origins. All three parts were moderated/conducted by Jonathan Marlow.  

Part 1: The Early Years (32:19) – beginning with Burton-Watts talking about her early years and the fact she was a biracial child and the difficulties that she faced, and the violent brutality faced at the time and politically motivated she became through just childhood.  Some of the other details include how nothing has really changed since her childhood with the racism that she’s faced all her life, Watts’s childhood – including some harrowing stories recounted by his wife, going to school until 11th grade, his Catholic school, his military career – and lack of accounting of his time in the Army as a paratrooper, horror stories from his military service, Watts’s moving to Oakland and how he eventually met Burton-Watts and her boyfriend, Watts’s beginning the Jay Payton Show and how that eventually evolved into his work in Film, how they met and how they eventually got involved – including some hilarious gambling stories, a great discussion of just how long of an engagement they had before they were married, and much more.  This opening interview is much more of a personal account of their lives before they met and until the point where they finally became involved.  Mrs. Burton-Watts is an amazing interview suffering no fools and being very honest about the times, politics, and people of the era.  Note: the video does state at the beginning that there was some disturbing imagery.

Part 2: Sal Builds an Empire (27:13) – Burton-Watts opens by discussing how Watts set up roots in Oakland after they hook up.  Some of the other details include how quickly Solomon King came about and was financed and produced, Burton-Watts calling Oakland “The Apollo-theater of the World” – and discusses the culture of Oakland, the writing of the film, and how it was specifically tailored to Watts being the star, some of the contributions she made of the script including a Song of the South reference if Watts was aware of the other Black Filmmakers and was aware of his contemporaries like Rudy Ray Moore, who’s the Maserati belong to in the film, Jamie Watts who appears in the film – Sal’s “brother” and an account of who he was and what he really did, the cost-effective tricks Watts used during the production, the various cast members and her recollections, the clothing and where they came from, the film was shot in sequence, and much more.  This interview focuses on Solomon King though there are quite a few personal anecdotes done only in the way Burton-Watts could.  

Part 3: The Later Years (28:08) – Burton-Watts in her third and final interview begins by discussing the release.  Some of the details include how Watts came up with the name Solomon King for the title and character name, his progressive attitudes towards women, some of the subplots that were lost in the final film, a showing of the original press kit – which is included in the accompanying booklet, the planning of another film – which never materialized, the slowing down of Watts interest and business in the 1980s – the reason why this occurred, an FBI investigation, his time in Prison, moving back in LA, how she thinks that Watts would think about the rediscovery of his new film, a very powerful story about Maya Angelou, a final story that if you’re going to listen to anything listen to this final story, and much more.  The conclusion to these wonderful interviews with Burton-Watts is all passionate, articulate, political, knowing, and powerful.  

The Jay Payton Show (51:20) – this is the July 18, 1976, episode of the Jay Payton Show, a local Oakland music and dance show that was executive produced by Sal Watts.  As the front title cards discuss this was the first “taste” of Show Biz that Watts had and would be ground zero for his creative career in motion pictures.  Filmed on the current era TV Equipment – it looks appropriate for the era, if one has seen Questlove’s amazing Summer of Soul one will understand the visual quality.  There is a very early-era Soul Train vibe to the entire special.  The camera work is of the 70s era Zoom Lens and Dolly Track style of variety shows.  Payton himself is one of the freshest and coolest cats that’s ever hosted a Musical Variety show [yes, even Don Cornelius himself].  One cannot express how entertaining, fun, and just outright great this piece of 1970s historical documentation is.  In fact, this reviewer upon his second viewing used it as a sort of “in-theater” entertainment before the feature.  This perfectly set the tone for the film getting you into the era with clothing, music, dance, and general attitude.  Stroke of utter brilliance on Deaf Crocodile for including this in the set.  

Restoration demo (5:58) – this video essay of sorts does a comparison of the original print and takes us through the various stages of restoration.  The magic of Deaf Crocodile’s work can be seen in the short six minutes of this featurette.  

Theatrical Trailer (2:21) – created from the restored elements. 

The Final Thought 

Solomon King is here to kick your ass.  Deaf Crocodile continues their amazing curation with another grand slam of a home video release.  Highest Possible Recommendations!!! 

Deaf Crocodile’s Blu-Ray Edition of Solomon King is out now

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