×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Film Review: ‘Take Me To the River’

Joyful tribute to the Memphis soul music scene is structured around the recording of a fresh compilation album.

With:

Terrence Howard, Mavis Staples, Snoop Dogg, Charles "Skip" Pitts, Al Kapone, Frayser Boy, Lil P-Nut, Bobby "Blue" Bland, William Bell, Otis Clay, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush.

The latest documentary exploration of a particularly fertile region in the history of American music, in this case Memphis, “Take Me to the River” compensates for a lack of originality and depth with no shortage of joyful celebration. An inside job by director and record producer Martin Shore, the pic provides succinct overviews of the ’60s heyday of legendary soul music labels Stax and Hi Records structured around the main attraction: a series of sessions combining old-school artists with contemporary acts for the recording of a fresh compilation album. Without the star power of the recent, similarly themed “Muscle Shoals,” theatrical prospects appear negligible, but further fest play and tube exposure are a given.

One of the subjects describes the sound of Memphis soul as “real and genuine and straight from the heart,” which could also apply to Shore’s approach with the film. Staying primarily behind the scenes, Shore allows the hardworking session musicians and a few remaining stars to tell their own stories. The bigger the personality — say, seventysomething firecracker Mavis Staples or scratchy-voiced scene stealer Charles “Skip” Pitts — the more entertaining the tales. Part of the stated mission of the recording sessions and the film is “passing on musical magic,” a goal that feels all the more vital in light of how many participants passed away during or soon after production.

Intermittent hosting appearances by actor and musician Terrence Howard — who conducts a few interviews and sits in on one of the sessions — feel a bit awkward, but Shore otherwise does a fine job keeping the focus where it counts. The arrival of younger Memphis-born hip-hop acts, including preteen prodigy Lil P-Nut and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” collaborator Frayser Boy, never overshadow the veterans. On the contrary, there’s something touching about the level of respect between the generations, never more pronounced than in Snoop Dogg’s camaraderie with Stax journeyman William Bell.

Although “Take Me To the River” (which cribs its title from an Al Green classic) touches on the civil rights movement and the record labels’ atypical racial unity in the deeply segregated South, the surface-deep history lessons can’t compete with the music. It’s far more revelatory to see the excitement Staples radiates in digging up the rock-n-gospel chestnut, “Wish I Had Answered,” and bear witness to her inimitable performance style.

While some sections of voiceover narration seemed incomplete on the print screened prior to the pic’s SXSW fest premiere, tech credits are generally solid, especially the topnotch sound work put into capturing the recording sessions with dynamite clarity.

SXSW Film Review: 'Take Me To the River'

Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, Feb. 27, 2014. (In SXSW Film Festival — 24 Beats Per Second.) Running time: 97 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary) A Social Capital Films production. Produced by Martin Shore, Cody Dickinson, Dan Sameha, John Beug, Brett Leonard. Executive producers, Jerry Harrison, Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell.

Crew:

Directed by Martin Shore. Written by Shore, Jerry Harrison, Zac Stanford. Camera (color, HD), Nathan Black; editors, Maxx Gillman, Julie Janata; music, Cody Dickinson; music supervisors, Linda Osher, Gregg Leonard; sound, Andy Black; supervising sound editor, Eric "ET" Thorngren; re-recording mixer, Pete Horner; associate producers, Clay Lansill, Ellen Fair, Al Kapone, Patrick Wabl, Chris Tuffin, Renee Tab, Luther Dickinson.

With:

Terrence Howard, Mavis Staples, Snoop Dogg, Charles "Skip" Pitts, Al Kapone, Frayser Boy, Lil P-Nut, Bobby "Blue" Bland, William Bell, Otis Clay, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush.

More Film

  • Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer

    Film News Roundup: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Trailer Sets Sony Pictures Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” sets a studio record, Chris Meledandri and Glenn Close are honored, an art-house streaming service is unveiled, and “Cliffs of Freedom” gets a release. TRAILER STATS More Reviews Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid' TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes' [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo to Star in the Thriller 'Hell on the Border'

    Frank Grillo is set to star in the action-thriller “Hell on the Border” with Wes Miller directing. Miller also penned the script with Curtis Nichouls, Henry Penzi, and Sasha Yelaun producing. Ron Perlman is also on board to co-star. More Reviews Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A Real Good Kid' TV Review: 'Conversations With a Killer: [...]

  • Lee Unkrich Variety Oscars Nominees Lunch

    'Toy Story 3,' 'Coco' Director Lee Unkrich to Exit Pixar After 25 Years

    Lee Unkrich, who won Academy Awards for “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” is departing Pixar Animation Studios after 25 years to spend more time with his family. Unkrich joined Pixar in 1994 after working as an assistant editor in television on “Silk Stalkings” and “Renegade.” He served as editor on Pixar’s first feature, 1995’s “Toy [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed

    Third 'Fantastic Beasts' Production Start Pushed Back Several Months

    Warner Bros. is pushing back the production start date of its third “Fantastic Beasts” movie several months from July to the late fall, a spokesperson said Friday. Actors have been notified about the change in dates. The untitled third “Fantastic Beasts” movie has not yet set a release date. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. More Reviews Album Review: Mike Posner's 'A [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Unveils Financial Data for DTC Unit, Sets April 11 for Investor Presentation

    Disney has rejiggered its business segments for earnings reporting to make room for the new unit housing its global streaming operations. Disney on Friday released restated earnings for fiscal 2018, 2017 and 2016 to give investors and financial analysts better visibility into its spending on the launch of the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and other [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content