“Don't you suckers know the days of Uncle Remus and Old Black Joe are gone?” The Blaxploitation genre offers so many idiosyncratic works from singular artists, and the long-thought-lost Solomon King from 1974 – written, directed, produced, and starring Sal Watts – is a genuine classic that belongs in the conversation with films like Dolemite and Shaft. Deaf Crocodile presents their beautiful HD restoration of the film on Blu-ray with a terrific collection of special features to shed light on this overlooked work. Highly Recommended!
The Blaxploitation genre immediately recalls certain hallmarks, at least in my mind. Thumping soul and funk soundtracks, Black heroes fighting oppressors, non-professional performers adding regional culture and texture to the proceedings; these all come to my mind immediately when thinking of the genre. But where Sal Watts’ Solomon King finds a great source of power is in how it sidesteps some of the more stereotypical tropes in Blaxploitation while still being true to the core tenets. If Dolemite was a raconteur always at odds with the law, then Solomon King is the smooth businessman using the exploitative forces of American government and commerce to benefit others.
Solomon King (Sal Watts) is an ex-CIA operative, ex-Green Beret and nightclub owner living in Oakland, California. King’s previous ties to the oil industry soon disrupts his love for Princess Oneeba (Claudia Russo) and throws his life into distress, but King’s got the know-how and grit to fight against Prince Hassan (Richard Scarso) and his many goons. Oh, and you can bet that our hero gets to romance beautiful nightclub singers and beat the crap out of henchmen along the way.
Watts was an untrained actor, much like the rest of the cast in Solomon King. But for a first-time filmmaker who took on all aspects of the production, his first feature is both narratively and aesthetically accomplished. Where you think the story will start to slack off, Watts packs each scene with a bevy of regional flavor and spirit. Watts’ own clothes from his Mr. Sal’s Fashion Stores were used and perfectly reflected Black culture of that era without disappearing into the genre completely. Solomon King frequently reminds us of what we’ve been missing in similar works; like how Solomon is a rather gentle man and that doesn’t soften his tenacity. The sex scenes are even admirable in their tenderness, and much of that is owed to Watts’ genuine talent.
You’d think a film produced on a shoestring budget and resources would have a bit of difficulty packing a punch, but Solomon King’s DIY spirit is backed by somewhat-sturdy craftsmanship. Like Dolemite, you can truly feel the collaboration of so much Black talent happening on the screen, and that energy can frequently carry the film alone. But this entry even uses slow motion, freeze frames and decent punchy editing to add emphasis. That’s not even mentioning the incredible soundtrack produced by Jimmy Lewis that keeps the film grooving at a unique pace.
Listen, Solomon King has everything you could want from a Blaxploitation classic and then some. Musical numbers, terrific one-liners, whacky shootouts, double-crossing, etc. all show up in full force and are guided by Watts’ singular vision. You’d be remiss not to check the film out, especially considering how close it came to being completely lost forever.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Solomon King is ready to stick it to the man on Blu-ray with a single-disc (BD50) release that comes in a clear amaray case with an accompanying booklet that includes a critical essay and press book reproduction. The Blu-ray fires up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, browse scenes, set up audio/video and explore extras.
Seeing as the original 35mm negative for Solomon King is considered to be lost, I was expecting the presentation to suffer a bit in fidelity. Deaf Crocodile sourced their new restoration from a single 35mm release print located in the collection of UCLA Film & TV Archive. Even though the source print was badly faded, the presentation here is very pleasing. Grain density and contrast are really strong throughout, plus colors look very natural despite the restoration efforts needed there. Some jump cuts and scratches are found in the presentation, although I mark that up to source limitations seeing as the restoration was sourced from the only 35mm print known available. Overall, I found this to be a really handsome HD transfer that honors the texture of the original film.
Solomon King is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track sourced from original 35mm soundtrack elements and the optical track on the UCLA Archive Print. Solomon King has a limited soundscape, with plenty of ADR, heavy narration and dialogue/music levels that can be difficult to parse. Luckily for us, Deaf Crocodile has restored the soundtrack wonderfully here and made the dialogue easier to hear in the louder moments. The limited range isn’t an obstacle for this terrific track, plus there’s not a ton of damage to be heard.
Deaf Crocodile definitely understood the assignment for releasing Solomon King, as this new Blu-ray release comes packed with special features to bring viewers up to speed on Sal Watts and the creative environment that paved the way for the film to be created. The extensive interview with Belinda Burton-Watts is worth the price of purchase alone, as we’re hearing stories about Sal directly from the person who knew him best, and it’s clear that the couple were united in their artistic pursuits. Burton-Watts touches upon the kind of racial issues that inspired Sal to create art, but I think the greatest benefit this feature offers is the ability to color in the world that Sal took inspiration from.
The Blaxploitation genre is loud, proud and restored with Deaf Crocodile’s new single-disc Blu-ray release of Sal Watts’ Solomon King. Boasting a terrific restoration and a wonderful selection of special features, this release is ready for discovery and comes Highly Recommended!