Gil Scott-Heron in “Black Wax” www.MVDvisual.com Blu-Ray Disc, Eighty-nine minutes
Robert Mugge’s film of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1982 concert performance at the Black Wax in Washington D.C. bounces back and forth from the club to Heron’s jaunts around his D.C. neighborhoods with boom-box in hand singing along with the battery powered portable, adding commentary to setup tunes from the live gig.
Like it or not; it’s impossible to disconnect from many of Heron’s one-sided political stances. Yet this man was a fascinating poet who also knew how to merge his words onto grooving melodies. Remember his huge chart topping “The Bottle”?
Unfortunately Mugge’s two-step (with a boom-box lugging Heron talking segments, segued with the live performances) quickly wears thin. Heron’s fascinating and captivating when he’s live on-stage, but his neighborhood jaunts with the box on his shoulders just doesn’t cut it, because Heron is not a very good actor. It’s kind of weird as Heron thrived in front of an audience, but his solo raps are hollow and dull. Yet Mugge follows this lame and same format throughout the film. Though; towards the end of the documentary Mugge or someone decides to yank Heron off the street and into a wax museum. Heron conducts one-way conversations with wax figures of Tricky-Dick Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. But this scene also displays Heron’s lack of theatrical skills, and the unsuccessful judgements of Mugge.
Through it all watching the deceased Scott-Heron’s leading his tight band onstage are special to observe. His songs are crafty, lively and upbeat, especially when he does his lead in dialogs that are poignant, even when his words are grim. It’s really a shame that Heron’s off-stage monologues didn’t convey nearly as well as his on-stage commentary.
Some twenty years after this concert recording; 2001 Gil Scott-Heron was sentenced to one to three years imprisonment in a New York State prison for cocaine possession, in 2003 he was arrested for possession of a crack-pipe. Heron’s troubling patterns continued in 2006 when he was sentenced for two to four years for violating a plea-deal when he left a drug rehab center, claiming that he left the clinic when they refused to supply Heron with HIV medications. Heron had previously confirmed press speculation about his health, when he disclosed in a 2008 New York Magazine interview that he had been HIV-positive for several years. Heron passed-away in May of 2011 at Saint Luke’s Hospital in New York City.
This Blu-Ray Disc on the life of the (often recognized rap pioneer) Gil Scott-Heron comes with a standard full-frame transfer. The English soundtrack is in Dolby Digital Stereo, though the audio is lifeless and flat. There are no subtitles or closed-captions. Referenced are a complete discography, a listing of the performing concert musicians, and production notes.
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal at WFDU with his Sounds of Blue radio show (Wed. & Fri. 9am-1pm) www.SoundsofBlue.com – http://wfdu.fm Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com & www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com