Robert Mugge’s 1982 portrait of the great poet-singer-songwriter and rap music forefather Gil Scott-Heron.
BLACK WAX is a musical-political entertainment film produced and directed by Robert
Mugge in 1982. It was the first American film to be fully funded by Britain’s then-brand-
new Channel 4 Television and also likely the first film to use Steadicam from first frame
to last. BLACK WAX centers on the late African American poet-singer-songwriter Gil
Scott-Heron – the man Melody Maker called “the most dangerous musician alive” and
many dubbed the forefather of rap music – and his 10-piece Midnight Band. It was filmed
entirely on location in Washington, D.C., primarily at the Wax Museum Nightclub (now
defunct). Songs performed by the band include such potent political numbers as “Winter
in America,” “Alien,” “Johannesburg,” “Storm Music,” “Waiting for the Axe to Fall,” “Gun,”
and “‘B’ Movie” (a scathing analysis of how and why Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States). Between songs, Mr. Scott-Heron is shown reciting his equally powerful poems (“Paint it Black,” “Black History,” “Billy Green is Dead,”
The H2O-Gate Blues,” and “Whitey on the Moon”), leading the camera on a unique tour of Washington, D.C. (from the monuments of official Washington through the minority neighborhoods that make up most of the rest), and finally confronting the “ghosts of America’s past” (life-sized wax figures of John Wayne, Uncle Sam, Neil Armstrong, Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, four U.S. residents, and black leaders from W.E.B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King).
This is Mr. Scott-Heron at the absolute peak of his powers. The politics is always entertaining, and the entertainment is nothing if not political. Transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored.