It’s an absolute love-fest in Martin Shore’s entertainingly skin-deep doc about the Memphis music scene, Stax Records in particular. (This influential record-production house closed shop in 1975 before being recently reactivated as a prestige label.) The hook is that a bunch of Stax’s surviving talent—among them Mavis Staples, Charles “Skip” Pitts and Bobby Blue Bland—have been invited to record a tribute album with younger artists like Lil’ P-Nut, Frayser Boy and Snoop Dogg. Also on hand is Hustle and Flow’s Terrence Howard, who riffs on one of the tracks and narrates the proceedings with unfortunately off-putting self-satisfaction.
This isn’t the movie to turn to for a rich sense of Stax’s history. Cursory attention is paid to those events (Martin Luther King’s assassination chief among them) that led to the shuttering of this oasis of soul, which claimed Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes among its roster. Shore is more interested in capturing the gleeful interactions between generations as they make music together. There are moments you’ll feel as giddy as Staples ripping her way through “Wish I Had Answered,” to the equal delight of her younger collaborators, Luther and Cody Dickinson, who came up with the whole project. Yet you can’t help but feel all the palpable joy is eliding some darker realities that would lend the copious musical performances a deeper resonance.
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