Sunday, July 4, 2021

Summer of Soul - Documentary Review

The Documentary: Summer of Soul

The Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

The Story: A feature documentary about the legendary 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival which celebrated African American music and culture, and promoted Black pride and unity.

The Review:
How does an event as historic and game changing and filled with so many stars of its time get nearly completely forgotten by almost everyone in the world. If it wasn't for those who were there, the footage that had almost been lost forever, and the efforts of Questlove as a director to bring it all back to life, we wouldn't have this documentary for people to relive, recall, or discover an event that should be known to everyone. We all know about Woodstock and what that meant for the time, for the people, and for the culture and it's definitely time we add this event with equal respect.

The documentary starts off with a drum solo from Stevie Wonder that blew me away and really set the tone for the entire film. Questlove fills the documentary with moment after moment of iconic footage and all of it features some of the biggest performers of the era either at their prime or just entering into it. We see a young and emerging Gladys Knight and the Pips rock the crowd and then we see Stevie again putting on the type of show that only he is capable of. Next up is 5th Dimension giving a powerful performance that shows off lead singer Marilyn McCoo's vocal range and the stage presence that made them one of the hottest touring acts of their time.

"How do you color a sound?" - Marilyn McCoo

The thing I love about this film is that it's not just a music showcase which would be fine, but the musician turned director has created something much more than that. Questlove goes deep into the culture and the societal aspects of the times through conversations with the event's organizers and some of the participants as well as some of his peers. There is also a ton of interview footage from the event so we get to see the modern perspective looking back on the times as well as words and thoughts from those wo were there.

There is so much quality content crammed into this documentary and all of it is important, all of it is relevant, and all of it is entertaining. It's truly impressive what Questlove has accomplished with this film. During a ten minute stretch, this documentary gives a more accurate and authentic representation of Afro-Cuban culture and music in New York than In the Heights ever tried to provide. That's not a huge knock on In the Heights, I enjoyed the movie, but it also kind of is because of where it falls short when there was such an opportunity for authentic representation to be shown in such a big format.

The Verdict:
Summer of Soul should be considered an essential film as a music documentary and as an historical record of an event that should be looked at as a touchstone for black culture, music culture, NY culture, and 1960's American culture. Questlove has created something truly special with material from the Harlem Cultural Festival that could have remained hidden and forgotten forever.

Check out the Podcast!

No comments :

Post a Comment

The Hot List