- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

Among the many video labels celebrating Black History Month, Wellspring Media leads the way with a pair of documentaries, our …
Video picks of the week
They are the excellent Muddy Waters: Can't Be Satisfied and the flawed but interesting Movies of Color: Black Southern Cinema ($24.98 DVD/ $19.98 VHS each).
"Muddy Waters" rates as one of those rare screen profiles that fully succeeds in capturing its subject's complex essence. Directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon present a warts-and-all portrait of the legendary bluesman, showing a musical great who's alternately soulful and shrewd, generous and controlling, and, above all, a consummate performer and composer (the latter despite his lifelong near-illiteracy).
The filmmakers present some terrific performance footage featuring Muddy both on his Chicago home turf and playing to early crossover crowds at sites like the Newport Jazz Festival, along with artfully edited interviews with fellow musicians B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Keith Richards, former bandmates, family members and ex-girlfriends.
Our only complaint is that, at 54 minutes (not counting additional DVD outtakes), the disc is too short. Viewers who want to investigate further can scope out Mr. Gordon's source material, the print biography "Can't Be Satisfied."
While "Movies of Color: Black Southern Cinema: A Portrait of Independent African-American Filmmaking" unfortunately falls short (too light on cinematic chronology and context), it does offer some fascinating clips from the films themselves.
Even better, the disc contains two bonus 1940s feature films from pioneer actor/writer/director Spencer Williams (who later played Andy on TV's "Amos and Andy"), the religious-themed "Blood of Jesus" and "Go Down, Death," which are well worth the price of the DVD.
That's 'Blaxploitainment'
Several 1970s "blaxploitation" features are also finding their way to home video.
MGM Home Entertainment's "Soul Cinema" Collection is offering DVDs of the Pam Grier duo Coffy and Foxy Brown, along with Michael Schultz's kinder, gentler coming-of-age story Cooley High ($14.98 each).
New Line Home Entertainment has a gala DVD edition of 1973's The Mack ($19.98 DVD/$14.98 VHS), starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor.
In addition to presenting that breakthrough film dealing with street crime, official corruption, mob intrigues and the influence of the Black Power movement in remastered form, the disc includes enlightening audio commentaries and featurettes that illustrate the tortuous backstory behind the making of this daring drama.
Xenon Pictures (www.xenonpictures.com), meanwhile, reissues the African-Jamaican cult classic The Harder They Come in an extras-packed DVD ($19.98), showcasing reggae singer Jimmy Cliff as a spurned performer who wages a one-man war against the system, spurred on by what's arguably one of the greatest soundtracks in movie history.
Purple days
In somewhat more mainstream developments, Warner Home Video issues Steven Spielberg's acclaimed adaptation of the Alice Walker novel The Color Purple in a gala new double-disc Special Edition DVD ($27.95), due Feb. 18.
The multi-Oscar-nominated 1985 film stars Whoopi Goldberg as a young black girl coping with racial barriers in the turn-of-the-century South, and features Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Rae Dawn Chong.
In addition to presenting the film, the disc offers a host of extras, including four documentaries: "Conversations With the Ancestors: From Book to Screen," "A Collaboration of Spirits: Casting and Acting," "The Color Purple: The Musical" and "Cultivating a Classic: The Making of The Color Purple." A storyboard and photo gallery completes the digitally remastered set.
Warner debuts two additional thematically related titles on DVD ($19.98 each): Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy and Dan Aykroyd in Bruce Beresford's 1989 Best Picture-Oscar winning Driving Miss Daisy, adapted by Alfred Uhry from his stage play; and Guy Green's 1965 drama A Patch of Blue, with Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman.
Both discs include feature-length filmmaker commentaries, among other extras.
The 'A' list
Two black theatrical comedies are likewise on their way to area video stores:
Brown Sugar starring Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Queen Latifah and Mos Def arrives next week in standard VHS (priced for rental) and deluxe DVD ($27.98) editions, via 20th Century Fox.
New Line Home Entertainment sets a March release date for Friday After Next ($27.95 Special Edition DVD, $22.98 VHS), with Ice Cube, Mike Epps and John Witherspoon.
Phan mail
Dear Phantom: Do you know if "Hellzapoppin'" has ever been put on video or DVD? It's an old one dating back to early '40s with Olsen & Johnson and Martha Raye and others.
Edwina Vauclain, via e-mail
Unfortunately, that surreal 1941 romp has yet to receive a legit home-video release.
Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; or send e-mail to: phanmedia
@aol.com. Check out our Web site (www.videoscopemag.com).

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