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Gil-Scott Heron: Black Wax

The films of Robert Mugge engage crucially not only with the sounds but also the philosophies of the artists whose work they explore, and it is difficult to imagine two more philosophically engaged artists than the incendiary songwriter/vocalist Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) and the exploratory keyboardist, composer and bandleader Sun Ra (1914-1993). In two classic documentaries, newly remastered for Blu-ray and DVD by MVD Visual, Mugge mounts the stages on which these ineffable creators plied their deeply felt trades.

In 1982’s Black Wax, Mugge captures a Washington, D.C., performance featuring Scott-Heron and his Midnight Band (under the guidance of bassist and “Secretary of Entertainment” Robert Gordon), interspersed with casually graceful scenes of the vocalist guiding the viewer on a “tour” of the nation’s capital. Scott-Heron puts caustic verbal thumbscrews to iconic figures of the American past and, in poetic verse, excoriates the poverty thriving in the inner cities while “Whitey’s on the moon.” Scott-Heron is leftist in his views, but he declares himself merely a member of the “Common Sense Party,” his cultural role that of a “bluesologist.”

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