Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has directed a film that’s part time capsule, part rollicking musical, and entirely enjoyable.
“Summer of Soul” depicts the political, social and musical scene of the 1960s. In the summer of 1969, Sundays in Mount Morris Park in Harlem featured an array of entertainers in the free series of the Harlem Cultural Festival.
Comedy acts, jazz, blues, and rock wafted from the stage. The performers ranged from Willie Tyler and Lester to Mahalia Jackson, the 5th Dimension and Sly and the Family Stone in what sometimes is referenced as “the Black Woodstock.” (Woodstock, not so incidentally, happened on a farm about 100 miles away that same summer.)
Now the Harlem festival finally gets its due with Questlove’s film, subtitled “…Or: When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised.” The footage sat around for nearly 50 years until he realized how wonderful it is and how important it was to preserve that moment in time that can be considered a concert film but is much more than that.
I love seeing Steve Wonder, still in his teens; David Ruffin, who holds a single note in a sequence that will wow any music aficionado; and the engaging Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Meanwhile, while the festival promoted unity and Black Pride, social issues raged at a time when riots, drugs, violence and justice initiatives divided the country.
The movie, which is so well-wrought it’s hard to believe this is Questlove’s debut as a director, will appeal to people who remember the era, the music and the turmoil. And it will serve as a history lesson for those who don’t.
Rated: PG-13 for drug abuse, language and some disturbing images.
Running time: Just a couple of minutes less than two hours.
Streaming on Hulu.
Watch the trailer here.