FANTASTIC FEST 2022: Solomon King (1974)

Sal Watts wasn’t a movie star.

He came from poverty and racism in Mississippi to California where he launched the Sal/Wa and Marsel record labels to showcase the music of local black performers, hosted local music show Soul Is, had several restaurants and owned Mr. Sal’s Fashion Stores, where he sold clothing made by local black fashion designers.

Then, in 1974, while Hollywood was making blacksploitation often with white directors and writers, Sal was the director, writer, producer and star of Solomon King.

Sal’s widow Belinda Burton-Watts said, “Sal was an extraordinary man who remained humble throughout his life and just wanted equality for all. He loved all people and wanted to live in a world that treated people fairly. He would be grateful to know that his film will see the light of day once more.”

This film was lost for decades with only a faded print in the UCLA Film & TV Archive. Dennis Bartok, who runs Deaf Crocodile with Craig Rogers, found the rare soundtrack that was released on Watts’ own label. Once he learned more about the film, he had to save it.

After several years of searching for rights and elements, he and Craig finally connected with Sal’s wife and collaborator, Belinda who manages his estate. They took the UCLA print, did a 4K restoration and matched it with the score and soundtrack elements that had been in a closet for decades.

Shot with a cast of mostly non-professional actors, all wearing clothes from Watts’s store, Watts himself is Solomon King, an ex-CIA operative/ex-Green Beret/nightclub owner whose Middle Eastern lover Princess Oneeba (Claudia Russo) gets killed, just as he uncovers a global conspiracy and heads off to a castle to cut the head off the snake that is Prince Hassan (Richard Scarso).

It’s synchronicity that Scarso is in this — as well as Louis Zito — as they were also in another movie made to cash in on a trend yet one that made a more honest film in the genre, Duke Mitchell’s Massacre Mafia Style. Both Watts and Mitchell came from worlds outside of Hollywood yet had dreams of being part of it and did it on their terms. Sure, the world didn’t know when these films got made but decades later, their work was rediscovered.

This ends with King getting his old army buddies together and using grenades when they could have just used knives but hey, if you have firepower, use it. Then go explore all the amazing clubs of 1974 throughout Oakland and rock out to that soundtrack.

Thousands were spent to make this real again, hours of hard work, but the joy I felt watching it meant that it was all so very well spent.

Solomon King will be released by OCN/Vinegar Syndrome later this year.

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