SILICON VALLEY) The feature-length, multi-awards winning documentary Mr. SOUL! (The name, written with an exclamation mark following its name) produced, and directed by MELISSA HAIZLIP is based on the work of her uncle, pioneer/producer television Host ELLIS HAIZLIP, whose television show has often been described as the first "Black Tonight show."
Mr SOUL! the documentary, may also be described as a historical documentary of Black Art, because, in its editing, juxtaposed with news excerpts, many related to the Civil Rights Movement, it displays the performances of some of the Black artists, singers, instrumentalists, dancers, actors and poets, that ELLIS as host, presented in " Mr SOUL!," the talk and talent show he produced and hosted in National Educational Television N.E.T. from 1968 to l973 (before OPRAH and before ARSENIO) when these performers were unknown.
Produced, directed and filmed by MELISSA HAIZLIP, Mr. SOUL !, the documentary opens with the date l968' written in white numbers over a black screen. The next shot is in color. On the screen, we focus on a portable television on a table, showing the letters ABC, then NBC and CBS of the three National TV Networks. As we look at them, the VO (voice over man's voice) says: "The day WHITE, has every hour of television set to them. The BLACK, has none." this shot is follow by a short montage, in color, showing the names of several CBS programs and the VO saying: "This is N.E.T. the Public television Network." as the letter N, E, T, appear on the small television screen. The credits, roll over the color montage of Black singers singing, interchanged with black and white and color head shots of Mr. SOUL!.
Mr. SOUL! the documentary is based in the life and career of the ELLIS HAIZLIP, a former theatre and Television actor in New York City, whose sexuality fluidity may have giving him the sensitivity necessary to fully understand art. While in New York, in the mid-60s, HAIZLIP was approached by CHRISTOPHER LUKAS, the white director of cultural programming in WNET (then WNDT) TV station, with the idea of launching, as producer and host, a TV arts program for Black audiences. using the variety show format of the ED SULLIVAN SHOW with the purpose to present the Black culture on television, to challenge the African American viewers to ponder the meanings of their Culture, at the time where the Black community was experiencing a a social transformation
The initial founding for Mr. SOUL! the program, came from a combination of public and private sources, including a start-up grant from the FORD FOUNDATION and the program started with ALICE HILLE as Associate Producer. Her connections to Harlem's The Apollo Theater, actors and HAIZLIP links to the rhythm and blues world's musicians, made Mr SOUL! an immediately successful television program.
As a television host, ELLIS presented psychologists, teachers and Ministers as speakers, in his program but what made Mr SOUL! unique, was because his TV show presented for the first time on National Television, the art (talents) of Black Composers, songwriters, musicians, dancers, poets, painters and writers, who had been ignored in America for years, and gave them a chance to be seen and head for the first time.
In the documentary, the filmed original artists' performances are presented along with snippets of American History: President Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy assassinations, Dr. Martin Luther King's Assassination, marches of the Black movent, the Vietnam protests, the Alabama Riots, and actual news snippets of Black leaders warning the Black people that their taxes are being used to segregate them, and keep them "second class citizens."
But as a documentary, the essence of Mr. SOUL! is in the art, not in the upheaval of the country, but by the way the politics and art are presented, it allows the audience to make a parallel between the work of ELLIS HAIZLIP and the speeches of Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING. We need to remember first, however, that during the beginning of the sixties, the only Black persons showed on the National Television news, were "Those who lived in poverty," or one caught selling drugs, or who committed a crime, In his famous speech, "I have a dream"
So, the uniqueness of MELISSA HAIZLIP Mr SOUL! is that it is more than a documentary about the life and work of his uncle ELLIS HAIZLIP. It it a demonstration of the birth of Black Art as it happened, sang in the voices of its original interpreters, when it was first filmed and heard on National Television for the first time. Some of the music is wild, noisy, or sad, some of the lyrics of the songs, vulgar at times., The rhythms are varied. The instrumentations are creative, but every sound is authentic, It interpreted by Black people, it exposes their. SOULS
Mr. SOUL! continues this week and Labor Day weekend in over 60 virtual Cinemas and Drive ins across the nation and will go on spreading love and happines through the weekend, to include September 12, the actual 52nd anniversary of the very first broadcast of the show, on September 12, 1968. For information go to https://www.mrsoulmovie.comFilmmaker Melissa Haizlip talks about her film “Mr. Soul!” on ABC Good Morning America which remembers Ellis Haizlip, America’s first black nighttime talk show host: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/news/video/paying-tribute-1st-black-late-night-show-72905730