This Is Outstanding

If you haven’t seen it. I mean even if you have, it’s still outstanding.

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). The footage was never seen and largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach and more.

Summer of Soul premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It will stream on Hulu in conjunction with Disney’s new BIPOC Creator Initiative; Searchlight Pictures will release it theatrically.

4 Replies to “This Is Outstanding”

  1. Saw it in a theater last night. Some great stuff. I would have liked more Sly, Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Stevie Wonder, and David Ruffin; less Nina Simone. But I get that these documentaries require balance, and some people like her. I’ve never much cared for the 5th Dimension either, but they could obviously sing well. Their trippy choreography for “Age of Aquarius” was great comic relief, as dated as the song but way funnier.

    The term “Black Woodstock” comes up, which isn’t fair to the Harlem Festival. Beyond the timing, the only point of comparison is that Sly played at both. The contrasts, however, are legion. The most obvious contrast is that all of the acts at Harlem Festival knew how to play. The standard at Woodstock was so low that several acts substituted recordings from other shows for the Woodstock album. The Grateful Dead were so displeased with their set that they wouldn’t allow any of it to be released. Given their own low standards, that’s saying something. But at least they had the integrity to skip the album rather than fake it with a recording from a better show.

    Another point of contrast is the HF appears far better organized than Woodstock.

    To me the most meaningful contrast is this: the best performance at Woodstock (The Who) was a “fuck you, hippies” set. Such a thing would be unthinkable at Harlem Festival because it was a genuine event as opposed to self-regarding hippies congratulating themselves for wallowing in a rural mudpit and taking drugs to mostly substandard playing.

    1. I would love to have seen more from Stevie and Sly!

      Also, it was fun to be reminded where Prince got his schtick. There is nothing new under the sun.

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the young and privileged acting like idiots. I was far from immune. Just don’t pretend it’s something important. The boomer tendency to attach cultural significance to every stupid thing we do is an obsession bordering on a mental disorder.

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