|Title:||Summer of Soul|
Other Movies Seen By This Director (0)
|07.17.21||Internet|| (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)|
One of the silver linings of 2020 Quarantine for me was that Questlove (drummer for The Roots among other things) took to doing these streamed DJ sets online. I wasn't into all of them, but the ones I was into, I was REALLY into. So now he's made a movie! and it's pretty good!
This is about a "forgotten" music festival that was held in Harlem in the summer of 1969 that was documented but no one was interested in distributing it. It probably didn't help that Woodstock was going on at the same time. I could definitely tell the main tension of this film is trying to show these great concert performances that haven't been seen before and at the same time tell the story of this festival and what it meant to the people who put it on, who performed in it, who went to it, and why it was never seen again until now. I feel like it's a pretty consistent problem to have with concert films and I can recall different films that weigh that balance differently... to varying degrees of success. On one side of the scale is Dave Grohl's documentary Sound City. It's not a concert film per se, but he spends the first half of the film telling the history of this recording studio then the second half playing music with various people. It definitely comes off as valuing the story over performance and because he split it down the middle like that it feels bifurcated like 2 episodes of a tv show or something. On the other hand you have something like Urgh! A Music War or Stop Making Sense that's 100% performance and you barely even get shots of the audience. That obviously works on the music level but you really don't get any context at all... you may not even know which venue they're in.
To me, the film that gets that balance absolutely right is Wattstax. These interstitial interview snippets with people around town give amazing character without needing a narrator to tell you what's happening and they're just long enough to not make the performances feel monotonous. Of course, it helps that all you really need to know about Wattstax is that it's Stax Records groups performing in Watts.
If there's a problem with this movie, it's that there's too much story to tell. How did these tapes survive? Why could they never be sold? How were they filmed to begin with? It's a bit of a shame that you don't even see the guy's face during the couple minutes that they rush to cover this stuff. But I get it, Questlove was already at 2 hours and probably had tons more performances he'd put in if he could and tons more interviews he'd show if he could but he didn't want to make a 2.5 hour music doc (ahem, Sparks Brothers). It does feel like there's probably another movie's worth of extra material that should show up on the blu-ray though.
So that small gripe aside, I really liked this. The concert footage actually looks incredible given its age and that it looks like tape rather than 16mm film(? I'm probably wrong about that). The interviews gave great flavor and context to the times, and I in particular loved how Questlove kind of sets up this format where each group gets one song... but then Sly gets on stage and boom! We get two! Then Stevie's back! more from him! Then Nina Simone shows up and it feels like we see her entire set!
And there's so much to present that Quest has no problem sometimes filling each quiet spot on a song with a quick interview sound byte... just like his streaming DJ sets it feels like this Soul Music Historian sitting you down and blasting you in the face with a fire hose full of knowledge, but all in tune and on time so you're head never stops nodding.