What We're Watching: Summer of Soul

Submitted by Durham Tech Library on

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

Directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson

Genre: Documentary film, available on Hulu

This movie was reviewed by Julie Humphrey, Durham Tech Library Director.

Why did you choose to watch this film?

I’ve missed live music and concerts so much during the pandemic. I relished the chance to watch some amazing live performances from incredible African American musicians from the 1960’s.

What did you like about it?

The concert footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival is spectacular! The festival ran over six weeks and featured Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone and many others. I also really enjoyed the interviews with attendees and concert-goers throughout the film as well as the cultural commentary from musicians, artists and cultural critics today.

Did it remind you of any other movie?

It reminded me of the concert film Monterey Pop Festival by Director D.A. Pennebaker (available in AVON: Academic Video Online) from 1968 which featured The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Simon & Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, Eric Burdon & the Animals, The Who, Otis Redding, and more.

It also reminded me of Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation, a PBS documentary (also available via AVON) and Amazing Grace, a documentary of Aretha Franklin performing in a small church in Los Angeles in 1972 (on DVD at the Main Campus Library).

[To access streaming video titles off-campus, use your Durham Tech username and password (same as for Self-Service and Sakai) to authenticate. Contact the Library if you have questions.]

Was there anything noteworthy about the film?

It’s sad to know that 40 hours of this concert footage was just stored away, abandoned and unused in a basement for all these years. Director Hal Tulchin filmed all six concerts but couldn’t sell the footage when he tried. It wasn’t produced as a film or tv series for fifty years and was definitely overshadowed by Woodstock, which happened that same summer.

What feeling did the film leave you with?

I’m definitely ready to see live music performances again! I also felt a lot of joy while watching and so much respect and admiration for these musicians. I’m also looking forward to seeking out more important archival films that celebrate and document Black history, music, and culture.

Who would you recommend the movie to?

Music lovers, documentary fans, history buffs, or just anyone wanting to be transported to Harlem in the summer of 1969.

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