This Sundance award-winner is an absolute joy, uncovering a treasure trove of pulse-racing, heart-stopping live music footage that has remained largely unseen for half a century.Mark Kermode, Observer (18 July 2021)
Mark Kermode isn’t the only person to suggest this is one of the best concert films ever made and it’s hard to disagree with such claims. The music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips and more really is fantastic, not to mention incredibly moving at several points.
The film is more than just footage from 1969’s The Harlem Cultural Festival. The full title of the film is “Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” because, although everybody involved knew how important it was to film these concerts, the footage was never seen and largely forgotten about. Unfortunately we can guess at some of the reasons why it never made it to TV but it’s great that we now get to see it. It was surprising to me how much more contemporary it seems compared to the more widely seen coverage of Woodstock that also took place that summer. The film captures the time and place to great effect, highlighting how much had happened leading up to the end of the decade and how much there was a need, and drive, for change.
It’s another music documentary (see also The Sparks Brothers) that will really benefit from the cinema experience. Not only will it look and sound great but this is a film to be enjoyed and experienced with other people. If you can’t make it to City Varieties it is also available to watch at home on Disney+.