Only the Strong [1993]

One reviewer has called Only the Strong Survive "an American Buena Vista Social Club," and that's not a bad way to describe this entertaining 2002 documentary. It certainly has a righteous pedigree: co-directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus have between them been responsible for films like Monterey Pop, Bob Dylan's Don't Look Back, Down from the Mountain, Startup.com, and numerous others; meanwhile, many of the great soul singers who appear here, including Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), and Carla Thomas, have retained much of their power since their heydays decades ago. The interview portions are fun--we learn, for instance, that "the wicked Pickett" has a stash of $1,000 shirts and $6,000 suits--but it's the musical numbers that are the main attraction, and there are some good ones. Even better, the DVD's bonus features include half a dozen complete live performances not in the original film, along with audio commentary by legendary producer Jerry Wexler and several of the artists. Sure, it would have been nice if Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and other living soul greats had also taken part, but hearing Eugene Record and the Chi-Lites singing "Oh Girl" is just about worth the price of admission alone. --Sam Graham

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