Wednesday, February 16, 2022

4K Digital Review: Summer of Soul - Perhaps the Best Concert Film of All-Time


It was the summer of 1969 and some of the biggest acts in music took the stage and I am not talking about Woodstock. This was a six-weekend festival in the heart of Harlem, that was filmed and no producers were interested so the footage ended up in a basement for half a century. Imagine a festival with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, The Fifth Dimension and Gladys Knight and The Pips all in their prime and yet this event was written out of the history books. Musician and record producer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson feature debut intertwines the music with interviews and politics to make perhaps the best concert film of all-time.  

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival played out during a time of cultural and political change. While it was a little over a year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the festival was taking place at the same time as the moon landing.  One common view at the festival was that more attention was spent on sending men into space than ending poverty or racism. Fifty years later, how much has changed? Think about that as you take in the powerful performances at a turning point in the the history of the United States. 

The 4K transfer is great considering most of the footage is from archival footage sitting in a basement for 50 years. Skin tones look natural and details hold up really well. 

The 5.1 surround sound is pretty good considering the audio sources were from 50 years ago. In the commentary you find out that they recorded the festival using 19 microphones so there was abundant sources of audio available. 

Bonus Features*

  • Audio Commentary – View the film with audio commentary by director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson. This is a really insightful commentary and you learn so much about the making of the film that it truly is information overload in the best way possible. 
  • Soul Searching – A behind-the-scenes look at Summer of Soul. We’ll learn about where the footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival has been, how it was uncovered, and why director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson decided to tell this story now.
  • Harlem: Then & Now – We revisit Mount Morris Park, location of the Harlem Cultural Festival. We learn how the neighborhood was a crossroads of culture and precarious politics and explore why Summer of Soul is so relevant during this present time of great political upheaval.

Summer of Soul is one of the best concert films of all-time in terms of the musical content as well as the insight from people in attendance as well as what was happening in our country during the time of this music festival. The film quality is exceptional considering the age of the footage and the audio commentary alone is worth the price of this digital download. A solid addition to your film collection. 

Summer of Soul is now available on digital and DVD. 

*disclaimer: the digital download was provided by Disney for the purpose of this review but the opinions are entirely my own*

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