Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) ★★

Horrible treatment of this pretty exceptional footage. Questlove is apparently incapable of allowing us to enjoy a performance for more than 90 seconds before having some talking head interject to wax nostalgic or bloviate about the importance of these musical performances were not even allowed to fully experience. Wants to be the Black Woodstock, so much so that it pretty much self-consciously falls into the same trap: inflating the importance of a concert into a ceremonial zeitgeist-defining landmark. But okay, white boomers have indulged their nostalgia for decades now, a Black corollary (one that was suppressed and ignored but now belatedly brought to life) isn't the worst thing in the world. But come on, whatever you think of the music at Woodstock (which has been both over- and under-rated by various parties at various times imo), at least Wadleigh's film let us see whole songs being performed start to finish, whereas this one uses practically every single song as a mere launching pad for archival footage montages and canned sound bites from guys like Al Sharpton and Lin-Manuel Miranda.* Nevermind that the contemporary clips of Jesse Jackson and Nina Simone are far more stirring and meaningful. The treatment of Sonny Sharrock is shameful.

In the rare moments when we do get a nice juicy chunk of a performance (e.g., Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson belting out "Take My Hand, Precious Lord"), it's only because the film has pre-spoonfed us that song's capital-i Importance. We're not meant to actually enjoy Stevie Wonder bust out a killer keyboard solo, we have to be made to understand it as a signifier of his genius and a representation of the artistic and political struggle waging inside him.**

I considered going to see this in a theater, hoping for a fun, concert-like experience at the multiplex, rather than just watching it in my living room for free on Hulu. Very glad I didn't; this is a film made to be seen on TV.

*I did love seeing Sheila E. talk about drumming though, that was pretty cool. One of the few times when Questlove the music nerd shines through here.

**Another moment when you can feel that music nerd energy come out is in that crossfade to Stevie working his Cry Baby pedal. Not nearly enough of that kind of thing here, unfortunately.