Arts

Cult Movies: New documentary Summer Of Soul is a revelation for the heart and the mind

BB King performs at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969
Ralph McLean

Summer Of Soul

BRACE yourself folks, for I don't say this lightly – but Summer of Soul might just be the greatest concert movie ever.

Coming from a man who holds the best of the genre, from Stop Making Sense to The Last Waltz, particularly close to his heart, that's quite the statement I know – but this is, simply, quite the film.

Questlove's superlative documentary of the long forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which runs at the Queen's Film Theatre in Belfast for one more week, has been gathering rave reviews from all quarters with everyone from the Sundance Film Festival down getting on board to acclaim it as a masterpiece. It's the kind of blanket praise that, if I'm honest, leaves me wanting to dislike it immediately – but, for once, the hype is justified.

Let's just consider the many ways there are to love this ground-breaking documentary. Firstly, there's the small issue of the live music footage it contains. Wildly exciting, ground-shaking performances, mostly unseen for 50 years, from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sly and The Family Stone and Nina Simone, playing before mostly black audiences in Harlem at a festival that history has seemingly forgotten until now make this an utterly essential watch for anyone interested in the history of soul music and American popular music in general.

Secondly, there's the deep sense of cultural history that informs it. Summer Of Soul not only rolls out the footage but tells the story of a changing world as well. Black power and civil rights issues permeate every frame of this tale. Dr Martin Luther King was only a year dead when this celebration of black music and culture took place and there's a crackling energy in the audience and on the stage that makes something like Woodstock look like a drowsy, white bread rock slog.

For his debut feature Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson has turned in something truly astonishing here. This is a straight concert movie with a wealth of important historical and political context backing up that incredible, incendiary live performance footage. News footage and talking heads add to the mix and there are some truly special moments on stage, such as the collaboration between a young Mavis Staples and old-school Gospel Queen Mahalia Jackson or Nina Simone's debut performance of To Be Young, Gifted And Black, that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Visually, this is a feast as well. Shot in gloriously garish colour stock we get to witness the full-on stage impact of acts as varied as BB King and Mongo Santamaria at their electrifying best, and while the bright suits and funky threads date it instantly, the power of the music that's pumping out of the soundtrack make this a truly timeless experience.

Up there with last year's Amazing Grace concert film of Aretha Franklin getting back to her gospel roots – another story that lay unloved for far too long – Summer Of Soul is a revelation for the heart and the mind.

A powerful, primal piece of soul nourishment,you owe it to yourself to see this.

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