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Originally published September 2, 2010 at 3:03 PM | Page modified September 2, 2010 at 6:35 PM

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Movie review

'Wheedle's Groove' documentary captures the soul of Seattle

The story arc traced by "Wheedle's Groove" — Jennifer Maas' documentary about the Seattle soul and funk scene of the '70s — is the best expression of the city's zeitgeist in recent memory.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 4 stars

'Wheedle's Groove,' a documentary narrated by Sir Mix-A-Lot. Directed by Jennifer Maas. 87 minutes. Not rated. Northwest Film Forum.

After each showing, there will be special performances and Q&As; see for details.

Ironically, one of the most telling lines in "Wheedle's Groove," Jennifer Maas' documentary about Seattle's forgotten soul and funk scene of the '70s, comes from Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, aka the Whitest Band Alive: "It's interesting to me that not only was there a soul scene in Seattle, but that it was really [expletive] good."

The story arc traced by "Wheedle's Groove" is the best expression of the Seattle zeitgeist in recent memory (see iconic 1996 grunge doc "Hype!" for a point of reference). A subculture, homegrown out of geographic necessity, homespun by design, remains staunchly local despite not-so-subtle aspirations to world renown. Fortune comes knocking, a few answer the call, the rest remain local and proud of their modest successes. All the while a lot of badass music is made.

But instead of Kurt and Eddie, our figureheads are Ron and Robbie — Buford and Hill, respectively, plus many more unknowns to Seattle music fans, whose bands played every weekend in the Central District of the '70s, filling numerous clubs long since shuttered, stoking a scene some never knew existed. "Wheedle's Groove" is the proof: Footage and photos from the day provide the visuals, key players the testimony. The music — via rare records rescued by Seattle DJ/collector Mr. Supreme and reissued by local label/archivists Light in the Attic — speaks for itself.

Those key players? Uber-legit: Quincy Jones. Sir Mix-A-Lot. Pastor Patrinell Staten Wright of the Total Experience Gospel Choir (watching her listen to her 1969 classic "Little Love Affair" is priceless.) Kenny Gorelick (aka Kenny G, who got his start in multi-culti funk crew Cold, Bold and Together). Guitarist Herman Brown sitting alongside his son Derrick "Vitamin D" Brown, currently one of the city's foremost hip-hop producers. Buford, Hill and dozens of lesser-knowns, who speak with halcyon wistfulness balanced by age-earned realism. At the end of the doc, all the locals come together to perform at the Showbox, connecting past with present.

Watching "Wheedle's Groove," you realize how universally DIY Seattle is — a "Family Affair," to borrow the name of Robbie Hill's band. It's no coincidence that director Maas is married to Light in the Attic honcho Matt Sullivan.

Ours is a humility born of a parvenu's shoulder chip balanced by pride in a thing made better than anyone else, anywhere else can make it — self-knowledge both cynical and satisfied. What could be more Seattle than that?

Jonathan Zwickel: 206-464-3239 or

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