July 2nd, 2021
MOVIE: SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)
STARRING: STEVIE WONDER, NINA SIMONE, B.B. KING, MAVIS STAPLES
DIRECTED BY: QUESTLOVE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
It has been a long time now, since the pandemic took hold of the world, and changed everything about living. A time of misery and a time of confusion, where the world was on lockdown, where a virus was killing people at rapid rates, and happiness seemed like a distant memory. It’s been a long time without happiness, and I could not tell you the last time my heart felt this full, but it felt worth the wait watching Summer of Soul, Questlove’s unbelievable discovery of the Harlem Cultural festival in 1969. It occurred during a time when heroes were dying- Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy, all assassinated in cold blood. It was a time of scientific progress, when a man landed on the moon. It was a time of civil rights protests, the Vietnam war, and a time of peace and love at the Woodstock music festival. The forgotten moment is what took place in Harlem, when various legends of soul, gathered in Mount Morris Park, to celebrate and display everything about Black music. The culture, the stories they carry, and the amazing talents that were on display radiate through this documentary. Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) filled my spirit up, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, in what is undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2021. We can officially declare 2021 as the Summer of Soul.
The story behind this miraculous music festival is that DJ, singer, producer, and all around amazing person Tony Laurence pulled off the miracle of getting some of the greatest in motown, jazz, gospel, and blues to agree to perform for thousands, over the span of six weeks in the summer of 1969. Each date had a different genre, and all of it was recorded, set to air on TV each week, but of course these things seem to find a way of being forgotten. The tapes would be left in the basement of a producer Robert Fyvolent and unearthed by Questlove (the drummer for The Roots and The Tonight Show), now finally put on display for audiences to celebrate and praise. It amounts to a gorgeous documentary of passion, inspiration, community, and voices raising up to the heavens. Summer of Soul starts with Stevie Wonder and ends with Nina Simone, and everything in between is musical perfection.
A narrative choice that Questlove makes, which makes Summer of Soul entertaining, emotional, and informative, is mixing the footage of the concert, his interviews with those that attended the event, and describing the political climate of the time. The music footage is stellar, crisp moments captured on film, with the hot sun shining on the stage, and the sound booming to reverberate in our ears. Watching the music of Pops Staple and the Staple Singers, the poetic lyrics sung by Nina Simone, and the heavenly harmonies of The 5th Dimension, all of it is a trip to the church of music. You add the accounts from families, people in Harlem, and what it meant to them having an event of this magnitude. It was a celebration of Black excellence and in 1969 there wasn’t enough of that going on. It’s emotional as well, and the reasons behind that emotion, it’s all up there on the screen. All of that emotion is weaved within the music, it is threaded into the moment that America was living in, an experience that can only be vicariously lived through by watching this wonderful documentary.
Another factor about Summer of Soul was how much it meant to me personally. Of course I was a big fan of the music being performed, but this was an educational experience, a walk in the shoes of members in the Black community. I was moved from the very first frame. I go to screenings where the audience is getting a sneak peak in Chicago and I rarely get the chills as I did watching this. My audience was clapping, cheering, laughing, and made the moment ten times more special. My only hope is that everyone can experience it the same way.
As far as music documentaries go, Summer of Soul is one of the greats, a fascinating celebration of music and happiness. Questlove has placed his stamp on cinema with a labor of love. It’s an expression to the music that sticks in our heads and has us tapping our toes. It’s a community that was stepped on, stepped over, and viewed as a threat, and is finally viewed in a light of positivity. Summer of Soul is easily one of the best movies of 2021. Go to the movies and put a whole lot of soul into your heart. You won’t regret it.
SUMMER OF SOUL IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE ON HULU FRIDAY JULY 2ND
Written by: Leo Brady