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At The Movies: The long, lost ‘Summer’

I didn’t go to Woodstock.

I’ll tell you why.

My friends from Southern Lehigh High School, Dave, Wolfgang, John, and myself, went to the Newport Jazz Festival, July 3, 1969, when rock groups were added to the lineup for the first time that year.

Either because of 19-year-olds’ poor planning (or no planning) or too few hotel rooms, there was no place to stay. We ended up sleeping in, well, that’s another story for another time.

“Moreover,” to quote one of my Syracuse University history professors, we witnessed a near-riot Saturday night of the Newport Jazz Festival. The uproar was quelled, as I recall, by the calm cajoling of Sylvester Stewart, musician, singer and songwriter of Sly and the Family Stone. With his group on stage, Sly asked some among a crowd estimated 20,000 who tried to bum-rush the front to cool it. They did. The show did go on.

My friends and I had tickets for Woodstock later that summer in August 1969. But as white boys from the suburbs, we decided not to risk a repeat of Newport. We didn’t make the trek from the Lehigh Valley to upstate New York. My memories of Woodstock include TV news coverage, the documentary film and album and my bronze Woodstock ticket key chain.

There was a third major music festival in 1969 in the United States, and it’s one that my friends and I didn’t attend. I didn’t even know about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival until I heard about the documentary film, “Summer Of Soul ( ... Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).”

The documentary film about what was dubbed “The Black Woodstock” is like a time-travel trip back to an era, more 50 years ago when the U.S., if not more innocent, seems in retrospect and through the nostalgic lens of the documentary film, to be so.

The film is directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, a Philadelphia native, turntablist (Don’t you love that word? Get our your dictionaries. Or should I say, “Google it.” I like to have a least one challenging word or term per movie review.) and drummer for hip-hop band, the Roots, house band for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

The “Summer of Soul” title references the Summer of Love in 1967 when an estimated 100,000 teens and young people went to the then hippie neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.

The title (“SOS”) also takes off on Gil Scott Heron’s spoken-word jazz composition, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1970), which influenced hip-hop music.

Perhaps most significantly, the film’s title refers to the fact that the footage of the festival was unedited and apparently never became a network television special, which apparently was the intent of filming the festival.

“Summer of Soul” refers not only to the genre of much of the music performed in the Harlem Cultural Festival, but the soulful vibe of the event and of those performing the music, many of whom talk about the event, its music and its impact in contemporary interviews.

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which was held over six weeks in Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park), was attended by an estimated 50,000 each Sunday and featured Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Festival performances were apparently filmed on videotape or film akin to the 16mm format (1.33 aspect ratio) so that when “Summer Of Soul” is shown in movie theaters it’s not that of the flat format (1.85:1 aspect ratio) that fills the horizontal movie screen.

“Summer Of Soul” has a bevy of performances to recommend it. There are so many great songs and performers.

Highlights include: “Aquarius”-”Let The Sun Shine In,” The 5th Dimension; “Everyday People,” Sly and the Family Stone; a drum solo, Stevie Wonder; “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gladys Knight & the Pips; “Why I Sing the Blues,” B.B. King; “Watermelon Man,” Mongo Santamaría, and “Grazing in the Grass,” Hugh Masekala.

There’s a major gospel component: “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” Mahalia Jackson, Mavis Staples, and “Oh Happy Day,” Edwin Hawkins Singers.

Director Thompson deftly places the festival in the context of the waning 1960s and the dawning of the 1970s.

The assassinations of John F Kennedy (1963), Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) and Robert F. Kennedy (1968) are duly noted. The festival is seen as a way to let off steam and prevent the Harlem riots of 1968 from reoccurring during another long, hot summer.

The U.S. Apollo 11 landing on the moon happened during the festival. That historic event is presented as very distant for those interviewed at the festival.

An interesting technique is having Gladys Knight, Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo of The 5th Dimension, and fans who attended the festival view the festival footage and comment about it. The images and sound are excellent.

The fashions of the performers and some of the fans at the festival are fanciful and nostalgic. Everybody is shown having a good time. A feeling of “harmony and understanding,” true to The 5th Dimension song, is evidenced.

“Summer Of Soul ( ... Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” is a must-see for music fans, history buffs and cultural anthropologists.

“Summer Of Soul ( ... Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised),”

MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for some disturbing images, smoking and brief drug material; Genre: Documentary, Music; Run time: 1 hr., 57 min.; Distributed by Searchlight Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

Stay to the very, very, very end of the closing credits of “Summer Of Soul ( ... Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” to see an oddball scene between Stevie Wonder and his band leader.

At The Movies:

“Summer Of Soul ( ... Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” was seen in Civic Theatre of Allentown’s Theatre514, which reopened July 1.

Movie Box Office,

July 9-11: “Black Widow” opened at No. 1 with $80 million, a new post-pandemic record, in 4,160 theaters, zooming past “F9: The Fast Saga,” ending its two-week-in-a-row run at No. 1, with $10.8 million, in 3,648 theaters, $141.3 million, three weeks.

3. “The Boss Baby: Family Business” dropped one place, $8.7 million, in 3,688 theaters, $34.7 million, two weeks. 4. “The Forever Purge” dropped one place, $6.7 million in 3,058 theaters, $27.4 million, two weeks. 5. ”A Quiet Place Part II” dropped one place, $3 million in 2,826 theaters; $150.7 million, seven weeks. 6. “Cruella” stayed in place, $2.2 million, in 1,875 theaters; $80.7 million, seven weeks. 7. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” dropped two places, $1.6 million, in 1,904 theaters; $35 million, four weeks. 8. “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” hopped down one place, $1.2 million, in 1,958 theaters; $37.7 million, five weeks. 9. “In The Heights,” $630,000, in 788 theaters, $28.3 million, five weeks. 10. “Zola,” $620,000, in 1,401 theaters; $3.5 million, two weeks.

12. “Summer of Soul ( ... Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” $375,000, in 752 theaters, $1.4 million, three weeks.

Movie Box Office information from Box Office Mojo as of July 11 is subject to change.

Movie Box Office, July 2-4: “F9: The Fast Saga” was still the box-office boss, continuing at No. 1 for the July 4 holiday weekend, with $23 million, in 4,203 theaters; $116.1 million, two weeks, keeping “The Boss Baby: Family Business,” opening at No. 2, with $16 million, in 3,644 theaters, one week, and “The Forever Purge,” opening with $12.5 million in 3,051 theaters, one week.

4. ”A Quiet Place Part II” dropped two places, $4.1 million in 2,826 theaters; $144.3 million six weeks. 5. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” dropped two places, $3 million, in 3,361 theaters; $31.3 million, three weeks. 6. “Cruella” dropped one place, $2.3 million, in 2,380 theaters; $76.4 million, six weeks. 7. “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” dropped three places, $2.1 million, in 2,954 theaters; $34.3 million, four weeks. 8. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” dropped two places, $1.2 million, in 1,716 theaters; $62.1 million, five weeks. 9. “Zola,” $1.2 million, in 1,468 theaters; $1.9 million, since opening June 30. 10. “In the Heights” dropped three places, $1.1 million, in 1,405 theaters; $26.7 million, four weeks.

11. “Summer of Soul ( ...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” $647,634, in 752 theaters, two weeks.

Movie Box Office information from Box Office Mojo as of July 4 is subject to change.


July 16:

“Space Jam: A New Legacy,”

PG: Malcolm D. Lee directs LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe, Khris Davis, Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes in the live-action and animation comedy.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions,”

PG-13: Adam Robitel directs Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Thomas Cocquerel and Holland Rode in the Action, Adventure, Horror, Science-Fiction Film. Six people are in a lockdown that apparently pre-dates the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown.

“The Sleepless Unrest: The Real Conjuring Home,”

No MPAA rating: Kendall Whelpton and Vera Whelpton directs Cory Heinzen, Brian Murray and themselves in the Documentary, Horror, Reality-TV Thriller. Film-makers and paranormal investigators move into the alleged haunted home for two weeks in hopes of finding evidence.

Movie opening dates from Independent Movie Database are subject to change.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY OF SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES Gladys Knight & The Pips, “Summer Of Soul ( ... Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).”