Stax Records launched the careers of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla & Rufus Thomas, and Booker T. & The MGs back in the 1960s and 70s. But then disco hit big and all but wiped soul music off the map. This documentary harkens back to the golden era of soul and catches up with the carriers of the Stax dynasty, including Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore, Mary Wilson, Isaac Hayes, and The Chi Lites. Written by
Released on the heels of Standing In the Shadows of Motown, Only the Strong Survive is an unfocused mess that, happily, still is worth a look if you're a fan of soul music in general or the Stax sound in particular. Even here, though, the film meanders from its path during a trip to Royal Studios and a pit stop in Chicago. The stories of Hi Records, Ann Peebles, The Chi-Lites, and Jerry Butler are all worth telling, but are diminished in the context of this film. And while it's nice to hear from ex-Supreme Mary Wilson, she's REALLY out of place here. As a film, this barely rates a 1, but thankfully there's plenty of that good old Southern soul stew on hand to keep things interesting. Of particular note are the performances of Sam Moore (When Something Is Wrong With My Baby always brings a tear to my eye), the much missed Rufus Thomas (Walkin' the Dog), and the aforementioned Ms. Peebles. Even the notoriously flaky Wilson Pickett delivers the goods here, though his ethnic wisecrack should have been left on the cutting room floor. One gets the feeling directors D. A. Pennebacker and Chris Hegedus basically filmed whatever came their way: there are huge gaps in the story (where's William Bell? Eddie Floyd? Booker T. and the M.G.s?), a dearth of archival footage (barring a rather tantalizing Carla Thomas clip), and a general lack of attention to detail. Stax deserves its own film, and sadly this ain't it.
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