Fantastic Fest 2022: SOLOMON KING Rediscovered, Restored, Righteous

Deaf Crocodile rescues a lost film, society wins

Solomon King Writer/Director/Star Sal Watts was a man of many talents in Oakland, CA in the 1970s. He ran clothing shops, a radio show, and owned multiple businesses. So when he and his network of friends and family decided to make a movie, they had the resources at their disposal. And thus was Solomon King born.

Renaissance man Sal Watts has got NOTHING on his on screen persona, however: King is an international oil magnate, former Green Beret, former CIA operative… and a Maserati-driving ladies man. When a Prince named Hassan makes a power play somewhere in the Middle East where Solomon has ties, a Princess ends up under his protection in Oakland. Much time is spent on Solomon’s love exploits, but unfortunately an assassin is lurking, and before long Solomon is going to have to get the gang back together and head out on a mission to stop Hassan and single-handedly deliver peace to the Middle East.

A singular time capsule of Black culture in 1974 Oakland, Solomon King is an absolute blast to watch. The family production is apparent, with rough around the edges performances and many minutes of dialog ADR’d over long shots of people walking or driving. But because they’re driving a Maserati around 1974 Oakland… it’s captivating! But as shaggy as the film is, that isn’t to say Watts wasn’t an effective yarn weaver. There’s always an action scene, or a love scene, or incredible soul music, or a quirk of charisma that shines through, and our theater at the Fantastic Fest world premiere of this new restoration of the film was cracking up laughing in all the right places. Watching Solomon King is akin to watching a Rudy Ray Moore film that was lost to time and is only now bursting onto the scene some 50 years later.

As such, the review of the film itself can’t be extricated from the tale of the folks at Deaf Crocodile coming across the Solomon King soundtrack, realizing they’d never heard of the film before, and beginning a quest to find it. That led them to Sal Watts’ family, and soon they’d secured the original audio and perhaps the last existing usable print of the film, though it was in bad shape. Through incredible technical know-how, and a human approach to honoring and connecting with Sal Watts’ family, a lost piece of art is now going to be widely available and a family legacy is restored. These kinds of stories simply warm my heart and remind me of the power of cinema, film restoration, and basic human acknowledgement and dignity. The world hasn’t really known Sal Watts. He was just a man, like everyone else. But this man hustled and lived life to the fullest and went for it when others wouldn’t. He made a movie out of sheer grit and resourcefulness, and it’s a damn fun movie. Solomon King was worth rediscovering and acknowledging, and Sal Watts’ legacy now has a new opportunity to be discovered. That’s fantastic.

And I’m Out.

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