‘Summer of Soul’ Never Really Comes Alive

I wanted to like this documentary a lot more than I did. I really wanted to tell you why you should watch this immediately right now or as soon as possible, but I found myself becoming irritated the more this documentary goes on.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is a valiant attempt to bring the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival to the mainstream after more than 50 years of obscurity, but Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson never really knows if he wants to do a concert film about the festival or a documentary about people talking about the festival.

If you’re going to have B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and so many more, you need to shut up and let them sing. Maybe this should’ve been a limited series broken down in several one-hour or so episodes targeting each show.

But at just under two hours, there’s more talking than performances and even talking over the performances. If you’ve ever wanted to listen to a song but someone wouldn’t be quiet, this is what it’s like.

And yes, there’s a lot of information spoked by interviewees that needs to be revealed and discussed, but damn it, couldn’t they done both equally?

The festival was set in 1969 but eclipsed by Woodstock and of course the Apollo 11 moon landing. Part of the reason putting it on was to stop some turmoil that had occurred in cities all over America throughout the 1960s.

And for about half an hour or 40 minutes, I really liked this, but by the time it reaches the halfway point, I realized this documentary is trying to tell a different story. And there have been so many movies and documentaries that have been about the Civil Rights Movement, that a lot of the interviewees feel like they should be in a different movie.

Why did it take 50 years for this footage to be found and assembled? The Woodstock documentary came out in 1970.

The performances are so well done that this should’ve been released so many years ago. Maybe then, it would’ve felt more like a concert movie. Since this has gotten so many good reviews, maybe it will inspire Questlove to make a more extended director’s cut. It would be great to show every performance the best that could be done, rather than showing quick snippets of highlights.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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