Film Review – Summer of Soul (2021)

Title – Summer of Soul (2021)

Director – Questlove (feature debut) 

Cast – Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Darryl Lewis 

Plot – Explores the historically significant 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that took place in New York City, uniting some of the biggest entertainment acts in the industry to celebrate African-American music and history. 

“It wasn’t just about the music” 

Review by Eddie on 20/06/2022

The winner of this years Best Documentary feature at the recent Academy Awards ceremony, renowned The Roots musician Questlove’s labor of love doco Summer of Soul(…Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) is an insightful examination and celebration of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that will be a new favourite for the right audience but for others like myself, prove to be an example of too much of a good thing. 

Using previously unseen footage from the weeks spanning event that took over parts of New York City in the year of Woodstock and moon landings, not to mention deep political upheaval and social unrest, Questlove is given a treasure trove of archival footage of some of the most well-known African American singers, songwriters and musicians but also understands the importance of providing context to their power and what was going on behind the scenes, ensuring that Soul is a telling insight into this day and time as well as an undoubtedly important piece of the puzzle for musical historians and music lovers. 

Unafraid to let the music take centre stage of his film and giving plenty of airtime to many of the festival’s key performances, Soul is the type of film that some would wish too go on for hours extra but at close to two hours in length and with the film jumping from well-edited to over-edited from scene too scene (perhaps Questlove took inspiration from the Michael Bay school of editing?), Soul can be a jarring experience of a viewer and one’s enjoyment will depend deeply on how much one will gain from a seemingly endless procession of jazz, warbling and funk. 

As an exploration of the festival itself and also an easy to understand examination of the climate of America at this particular time period Soul deserves much credit and clearly hit a chord around the world with multiple wins at key film festivals, critics awards and prized cinema award shows but as a piece of cinematic entertainment, it’s fair too say there will be those that will be wishing for the festivities to wrap up and those that would be wanting more of where this has came from. 

Sitting somewhat in the middle ground, I can personally see why Soul has become the hit it has and can appreciate Questlove’s passion for his project but with a feeling that Soul covers the same ground multiple times and often outstays its welcome, this is a niche documentary that is perfectly fine not to love like many have claimed they did. 

Final Say – 

Not a mass-pleasing doco but one that provides an insightful look into a key part of America’s music and African-American culture, Summer of Soul has many fine moments and takeaways but also feels like one that could’ve done with a trim in the editing room and less filler around the integral components. 

3 Maxwell House coffee beans out of 5 

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