• Take Me To The River

    Released By: Universal
    Released On: February 2, 2016
    Director: Martin Shore
    Cast:Terrence Howard, Snoop Dogg, William Bell, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:

    Al Green. Elvis Presley. Otis Redding. Memphis, Tennessee, the surrounding area, the Mississippi Delta...all ridiculously rich with musical talent. It was here that Royal Studios and Satellite Records...which became more famously known as Stax....cranked out pioneering soul and R&B records that have remained part of our collective consciousness for decades. In an effort to document the impact of Memphis, musician and producer Martin Shore has created Take Me To The River, a look at Memphis recording sessions with the legends that made the area famous. Along for the ride are some more modern faces, like Memphis' own Al Kapone, Lil P-Nut...and Snoop Dogg?

    Starting more or less at the beginning, Take Me To The River celebrates the contributions of Royal Studios, originally run by Willie Mitchell and now maintained by his son, Boo, and of course, Stax records. Featuring interviews with just about everyone still alive, we're introduced to the unique Memphis scene and told about the importance of Booker T. and the MG's success, being one of the first integrated bands to get noticed with their smash hit, "Green Onions". Ben Cauley of the Bar-Kays makes an appearance as well, the soul surviving member of the plane crash that killed Otis Redding and other members of his band. Later additions to the scene, such as Charles "Skip" Pitts also have their say, with Pitts discussing his work with the Isley Brothers and his phenomenal wah-wah guitar on Isaac Hayes' Theme From Shaft. Hayes, who came to Memphis as a session player and writer is absent from the film in person, having passed away a few years ago, but his segment is one of the most impressive; after crediting he and Dave Porter for penning the monster hit, "Hold On, I'm Coming", it's Hayes' appearance in a packed football stadium with the Reverend Jesse Jackson that highlights how popular the Memphis scene actually was.

    In between the interviews, the past and present come together in the studio to put together a number of tracks. Living legends from the heyday of Royal and Stax like Charlie Musselwhite and William Bell do what they do best, while an assortment of rappers...Yo Gotti and Snoop Dogg to name a couple...put their hip-hop stamp on the grooves laid down by live musicians. Old bluesmen, younger students from Stax Music Academy, and present-day talent blend together to create a unique twist on a sound that remains unmistakably Memphis. And not content to focus only on the music, but also the inspiration behind the songs, Take Me To The River hears first-hand about a music born to slaves as a way of communicating that made it's way off of the plantations and into the streets, intertwining itself with the civil rights movement of the 1960's and the assassination of Martin Luther King. The Staple Singers (March Up Freedom's Highway) are on hand to discuss the racial situation of the day, and the importance of Stax musicians attempting to keep the peace showcases how relevant they were in the community.

    From the beginning of a music scene, to the closure of some fantastic studios, and in some case, rebirth as music schools passing the torch to this generation, Take Me To The River is a pretty massive undertaking that has a lot of highlights, but is also deeply flawed. The biggest concern? There's so much information being conveyed here, so many people and places, that it's difficult to get a full idea of timelines. Viewers going into the film with extensive knowledge of the Mississippi blues/soul/R&B scene will follow it easily enough, but the less initiated will more than likely flounder as the film darts left and right to cover the bases. Still, as a permanent document, it functions well, having captured some of the last performances of legendary players; and those performances, which take up a large chunk of the running time, are the main draw here. Nobody is going to walk away from Take Me To The River with the type of knowledge that comes from watching other recent documentaries such as Muscle Shoals or The Wrecking Crew, but they will have witnessed some brilliant talent.


    Take Me To The River comes to Universal Blu-ray in a 1.78: AVC-encoded transfer that looks great for the most part. The majority of the interviews and performances in the studio look decent and sharp with no issues, despite some "Do The Best You Can" lighting techniques and filming environments. Other parts of the film, however, curiously including a more recent clip from the studio, look rough, having been taken from lesser sources. As a result, some portions of the film have a youtube ugliness to them, displaying digital flaws that don't enlarge well or function in a high-def environment. Still, these moments are few and far between, and the disc is largely up to par.

    Two audio tracks are provided on the disc, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The 5.1 track is fantastic, with the dynamic range of lossless being taken full advantage of during the studio sessions. Aside from that, dialogue is clear and consistent, and up front where it should be. Some of the older material suffers in the same way the video does, but like the video, it's where it should be for most of the running time.

    English Subtitles are provided.

    The first bonus feature is a full performance of "Be Like Me" (3:58) featuring MJG and 8 Ball.

    Next up are two extended interviews, portions of which can be found in the film. The first is Snoop Dogg and William Bell (22:22), in which the former further illustrates the influence and inspiration of the Memphis sound in his own work. The second interview features Terrence Howard and Al Bell (8:19).

    The Final Word:

    There's no doubt that Take Me To The River is a film that has only the best intentions. Although it could've been more informative, it's hardly a waste of time, and the last chance that viewers will get to see the top-notch players of a long ago generation take care of business in their natural environment.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!