‘Summer of Soul’: Film Review | Year 2021

In his directorial debut, Ahir “Questlove” Thompson showed forgotten footage from the 1969 Harlem concert series that performed Black acts.

Many people do not know his name, but half a century ago Tony Lawrence created something extraordinary in the middle of New York City. And some people know by the name Hal Tullchin, but he documented the feat. It was called the Harlem Cultural Festival, and over the six weekends in the summer of 1969 it performed more than five dozen acts and attracted 300,000 people who were not charged even a cent to watch – are you ready? – Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Max Roach and Abe Lincoln, Bibi King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Staple Singers, Sly and the Family Stone. Just to name a few artists, some in their prime and some groundbreaking up-and-comers, who took over the outdoor stage.

But this monumental alignment of stars – some would later refer to as Black Woodstock – generated little media attention, in part because it was overshadowed by the actual Woodstock, the weekend of the end of the Harlem incident and just Took place over the course of a few hours. Answer: Turning Max Yasgur’s farm into Zero for a generation. Still, this is a useless excuse for a lack of headlines, or a lack of interest on footage from TV producer-director Tulin’s expert shots of (especially) high-voltage lineups. The local CBS station did some highlights, but there were no buyers nationally.

This type of subtitle Heat of soul, Ahram “Questlove” Thompson’s electrifying documentary on the concerts and political climate in which he unfolds – a subtitle that takes on an immortal turn of phrase from the late great Gil Scott-Heron: Or, when there cannot be a revolution television. The footage remained in storage for decades, until Heat of soulThe producers set the ball rolling to keep it in the headlines for a long time.

It is no surprise that Thompson, a skilled and distinguished musician, has a knack for revealing the emotional core of a concert. At the top of a feature-length film for the first time, he lends a reassuring director’s eye to long-lost material, delivering it on three eloquent interwoven narrative tracks: knockout music; 1969 piercing capsule picture as a turning point in black identity; And of those who were there, some onstage and some collected lovable, charged boomer memories from the audience. The film captures many of them as they watch previously unseen footage, dazzling evidence of a moment in time that was written outside the official story.

The result is deeply felt on both sides of time, drawing clear parallels between the two galvanizing historical periods, then and now. Inaugural-night selection of the first virtual version of Sundance, Heat of soul It is just as thoughtful as it is horrifying, a welcome shot of adrenaline to celebrate not only a film festival but a new year.

On the film’s evidence, Lawrence, the producer and emcee of the Harlem festival, was a Shamoozer extravaganza, a portent for a sharp suit and shimmering shirt. (She’s also something of a mystery, her current whereabouts unknown, despite filmmakers’ attempts to find her.) Lawrence gained the support of the city’s Parks Department and an eye-opener in sponsoring Maxwell House (Thompson) Includes an Africa-focused commercial. For coffee brands). With financial support, however, there was no money for the lights, requiring that the stage face west for the late afternoon. Liberal Mayor, John V. Lindsay gives a warm welcome when introduced on stage by Lawrence as “our blue eyed soul brother”. But the relationship with the NYPD was another matter, and the Black Panthers signed on to provide protection.

Compared to the familiar scenes of the contemporary convergence of Woodstock, the Harlem festival, with audiences of all ages, is an all-round affair. Announcements were found by stage anxiety, not bad acid. For Moses Jackson, a child who was present with his family at the time, and whose delightful reactions made the film fully booked, the celebration was “the ultimate black barbecue” and “the first time I saw so many.” , Was the same situation for artists. Gladys Knight recalls that according to the crowd she had gathered at Mount Morris Park, she was “completely, utterly taken aback” by a gathering called “a black sea.”

Among the highlights Heat of soul Billy Davis and Marilyn McAu of the 5th Dimension are a chance to see, for the first time, the performance of their group that has been a long summer. On the waves of love from the audience, the excitement of his younger siblings increases. So do the couple’s feelings because they remember the feeling of playing their first show in Harlem. Connecting with that crippled crowd was very important for a pop-oriented group deemed “not black” by some. A powerful sense of kinship between fans and performers occurs through every frame of Doc’s concert scenes.

The music runs the gamut: classic R&B (King), contemporary Gospel (Edwin Hawkins singers featuring Dorothy Coombs Morrison’s Earth Contralto), Motown (Gladys and those mortally synchronized pips, a smooth and scorched David Ruffin , Refreshed with copper plates). newfangled pop (The 5th Dimension), psychedelic soul (complete with Sly and his utopian big-band planetarium, female trumpeter and white drummer). Jazz ranges from Beeb Legend Roach to avit-guardist Sunny Sharrock, Latin maestro Ray Barretto and South African innovator Hugh Masekela. It also has comedy: a brief stage routine and, in the credits post-code, a slight duel between Stevie Wonder and his music director, Jean Key.

With 39 songs on the soundtrack, most do not play in their entirety, but this is dynamic footage of Tulin (he deployed five video cameras), Thompson’s stunning directorial choices, and Joshua L. There is a testament to Pearson’s exquisite editing – which is a strange feeling “snippet-itis” never intrusive. The music flow increased rather than being interrupted by the exchange of new interviews and vintage documentary footage.

The numbers that play out in full are stunners, with the showstopper being on the order of six minutes, with the possibility of sending molecules up your spine, rearranging the molecules in your earthly form. “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” the gospel song in question, was a favorite of Martin Luther King, and it was only a year after his assassination when Mavis Staples and his idol, Mahalia Jackson, dug into his verses and flew away.

Even for non-gospel acts, the Lamas’ style of alchemy expresses joy in many performances. It is the fuse that burns Heat of soul, And, arguably, through American Black culture: a flexible way to confront deep-rooted violence and injustice. Journalist Charlene Hunter-Gault, one of the film’s extraordinary selections of interviewees, recalls the strength and comfort she gained from Nina Simone’s records when she was being harassed by white students at the University of Georgia, where she previously She was one of two black students. In 1961 to break the color barrier.

Doctors take a long-term view of prominent activists – among them Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson (a concert participant as the leader of the Operation Breadbasket initiative) and Dennis Oliver-Velez, formerly of the Young Lords – and in the coming days Let’s do the revelation. -Or memories. Sometimes they are the same. Writer-composer Greg Tate made critical remarks on how black Americans were articulated in the pivot shift between 1969, from identifying “negroes” to music and fashion as well as politics.

Fluent interviews of Thompson and Pearson’s concert performances and social backgrounds reach a lofty peak in a sequence that combines Staples’ “Reason Being a Change” with festival responses to the local landing report, which The third weekend of Fest coincides with Moon Landing. The song and sound alike awaken to a ground level.

That Heat of soul Looks and sounds as good as this is a fairly technical feat. But more than that, the preservation of 50-year-old footage of Tulin restores an important piece to the chronicle of the period defined by social unrest, anti-feverer, artistic trailblazing, and liberation movements that are still iconic today. Tulin, who died in 2017, hoped that this documentary would be his legacy. There is no question, for him and for event producer and high-spirited showman Lawrence.

The Harlem Cultural Festival was a statement of Black pride. The power of Thompson’s film is the way it taps into the urgency of the moment on a personal level as well as on a wider scale, and its bone-deep understanding that they are inseparable. “Are you ready, black people?” Commanding Regal Simone asks the audience. Get ready, music and film lover: For two mesmerizing hours, the dialogue between the cast and the summer crowd jumps across the screen and over the years.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (American Documentary Competition)
Production Companies: Vulcan Productions, Concordia Studios, Play / Action Pictures, Laribilly Productions, Mass Destruction Media, Radicalmedia
Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Producers: David Dynstein, Robert Fovelant, Joseph Patel
Executive Producers: Jane Isakson, John Kamen, Dave Sirulnik, Jodie Allen, Ruth Johnston, Rocky Collins, Jannat Gargi, Beth Hubbard, Davis Guggenheim, Lauren Powers Jobs, Jeffrey Lurie, Mary Therese Guirgis, David Bursey, Ron Eisenberg, Sheila Johnson Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Director of photography: Sean Peters
Editor: Joshua L. Pearson
Sales: Cine Media

117 minutes

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