Review by James Lindorf
Visual effects editor turned documentarian V. Scott Balcerek weaved decades of footage, photos and interviews together to create Satan & Adam, a fantastically endearing feature about life and the power of music. Satan & Adam made its world premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and is still touring other film festivals before hitting theaters on April 12th.
After a brutal breakup in 1986, Adam Gussow hit the streets of New York with his harmonica looking for a place to bare his soul. During his search, Adam found himself on 125th St. in Harlem. And there, in front of a phone company’s office, he encountered one-man band Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee. Sterling Magee spent years in the music industry and played with artists including James Brown, King Curtis, and Ray Charles. Magee became a New York legend when he walked away from the industry to spread a gospel of freedom through music on the streets of Harlem. Moved by his music, Gussow worked up the courage to ask the man 22 years his senior if he could sit in for a few songs. It was a decision that would help shape each of their lives to this day.
I am really impressed with the work done by Balcerek, who had only directed one episode of the TV show Replay before this. The film features a blend of both black and white and color sequences that adds an interesting visual element, on top of a great story, which just adds depth to the movie as a whole. Balcerek also returned to his comfort zone by joining the editing team with J.R. Mitchell and Martin Singer. The trio really helped make the film what it is. They went through the mountain of footage that was collected over 20 years and whittled it down to a tight 80-minute feature. Satan & Adam pulls you in with good music and warmth, but keeps you intrigued by putting you on an emotional rollercoaster.
The odd pair was forged amid an explosive racial divide in NYC, following the Howard Beach incident. When they met, Gussow was a 28-year-old white Jewish Ivy League scholar who lived a sheltered life 20 miles north of NYC; Satan was a 50-year-old black man who was not only well versed in general American racism, but that specific to the music industry. If they were going to continue to play together, they were both going to have to make some concessions and be willing to be uncomfortable. Seeing the two men from very different backgrounds come together over music and watching them tackle life’s obstacles is captivating.