DOC NYC (2021) review: Questlove Flawlessly Mixes Music + History in ‘SUMMER PF SOUL’

SUMMER OF SOUL

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 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 concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.


Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut is simply brilliant. It might almost be a given that as a world-famous and beloved D.J., every musical and visual choice in Summer of Soul masterfully cultivates a vibe and maintains that dazzling energy for the length of the entire film. In addition to showcasing a great party, Summer of Soul provides viewers with the essential historical and cultural context to fully appreciate what they are witnessing. Through passionate first-person narratives from attendees, the film balances what in less experienced hands might have become merely a history lesson with one hell of a show. 

 Piecing together recently discovered footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, Summer of Soul is a celebration of black culture as it transitioned from the tumult of the 1960s into the black liberation movement of the 1970s. In a time of great uncertainty and political unrest, the concert series set in Mt. Morris Park was a time for black pride and celebration. The film includes never before seen live performances by a young Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, and many more. Every shot is colorful, powerful, and tells a story. The music is phenomenal. The costumes are dazzling– maybe men should reconsider brightly colored ruffle shirts?– the Black Panthers provided security in full regalia, including the berets. Each shot is a wonder and a visual feast. 

 Summer of Soul is a vital inclusion to narratives around the Summer of Love and essential addition to understanding the complete history of the era.


SUMMER OF SOUL premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. It is streaming on Hulu in conjunction with Disney General Entertainment’s Onyx Collective; Searchlight Pictures released it theatrically.


DOC NYC (2021) review: ‘JAGGED’ is everything you oughta know about Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill.

JAGGED

JAGGED, directed by Alison Klayman, takes viewers to 1995 when a 21-year-old Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene with the first single off her ground-breaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” With a rawness and emotional honesty that resonated with millions, and despite a commercial landscape that preferred its rock stars to be male, she took radio and MTV by storm and the album went on to sell 33 million copies. Featuring an in-depth interview with Alanis, as well as never-before-seen archival material, JAGGED explores her beginnings as a young Canadian pop star, the rocky path she faced navigating the male-dominated music industry, and the glass ceiling she shattered on her journey to becoming the international icon and empowered artist she is today.


I went to rehearsal one night only to have my Mom hit play on the kitchen cd player to find my Jagged Little Pill album spinning. She’s cooking dinner and suddenly hears the lyrics, “Would she go down on you in a theatre?” That was an interesting conversation when I got home, mainly because I’m not even sure I knew what that meant at that point in my high school life. I was a pretty sheltered kid. Maybe that’s the reason Alanis’ music spoke to me. It was raw and emotional. JAGGED is Alison Klayman‘s new doc about one of my first feminist heroes, Alanis Morissette. As soon as the film begins, so do my goosebumps and unadulterated, joyful belting. That album gave me the confidence to be unabashedly me. I’ll be eternally grateful. 

JAGGED is a mix of sit-downs with industry greats, behind-the-scenes footage, and concert performances. The concert footage is so crisp you’d think it was filmed yesterday. As Alanis’s handwritten lyrics crawl across the screen in real-time, it remains clear that her writing is brilliant and forever relevant. The sit-down interviews with Morissette are insightful. Like her lyrics, she’s brutally honest, fearless, and funny. Alanis has a great laugh. It’s genuine and from the diaphragm. Watching her tell her own story feels incredibly relatable. In some ways, it adds more weight to Jagged Little Pill‘s lyrics. Twenty-five years later, screaming these songs with the knowledge of the emotion and experiences behind them, I love them even more. How could you not?

The juxtaposition of the bullshit from critics is glorious and pointed. Morissette flashes a middle finger to every single one of them. At the height of her fame, empowerment was not welcome. Certain critics don’t enjoy female artists talking about their love lives. It becomes misogynistic fodder. Ask Taylor Swift, who gets featured in the film. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think? Jagged Little Pill was, and continues to be, an anthem for so many women. Her audience spans generations. Because of her, women continue to cultivate and hold female artists in high esteem because their music represents the masses. Alanis a goddamn icon. Anyone who claims differently is wrong. I’ll die on this hill. 


For tickets to JAGGED click here!


Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Jaye Callahan, Alison Klayman, Kyle Martin
Cinematographer: Julia Liu
Editor: Brian Goetz
Music: Ilan Isakov, Tom Deis
Language: English
Country: USA

Year: 2021


#JaggedHBO, the second film in the #MusicBoxHBO series premieres November 18 at 8 PM on HBO Max.


DOC NYC (2021) review: Don’t you dare roll your eyes because ‘Listening To Kenny G.’ is freaking cool.

LISTENING TO KENNY G.

LISTENING TO KENNY G (December 2nd), directed by Penny Lane, takes a humorous but incisive look at the saxophonist Kenny G., the best-selling instrumental artist of all time, and quite possibly the one of the most reviled musicians today. The film investigates the artist formerly known as Kenneth Gorelick, unravelling the allure of the man who played jazz so smoothly that a whole new genre formed around him, and questioning fundamental assumptions about art and excellence in the process. In his own words, Kenny G speaks candidly about his musical background, his stringent work ethic and his controversial standing in the jazz canon.


Are you ready for a doc to charm the pants off of you? I don’t think you are. Listening to Kenny G. is no joke. It’s the name of a new HBO music documentary. Push aside any cliché you have in your brain when you hear the name Kenny G. because director Penny Lane wants to introduce you to the man and his music in an intimate fashion.

He’s so aware of his abilities, is self-deprecating, and undeniably talented. You’ll be blown away by his work ethic. He’s one of the most genuine guys. You cannot help but fall in love with him as you hear him talk about his history, his goals, and his astoundingly gracious aura. Watching him create music is nothing short of fascinating. You’ll find yourself transfixed by the melodies, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Lane includes sitdowns with critics and scholars, forcing them to confront their own biases. The film isn’t all sunshine and roses. Besides the eye rolls, critics seize on race and the history of jazz. None of that delegitimizes the massive fandom that Kenny G. maintains today. The evolution of his career is shocking. Clive Davis’ marketing ideas for Kenny’s music in the early 80s were wacky. But to both of their credit, Davis stuck with Kenny and vice versa. 

Listening To Kenny G., as a film, is undeniably enjoyable. Much like his music, it goes down easy. If you’re not smiling from ear to ear while watching, your cynicism has gotten the better of you.


For tickets to Listening To Kenny G. click here!


Director: Penny Lane
Executive Producer: Bill Simmons, Jody Gerson, Marc Cimino; Co-Executive Producer: Geoff Chow, Sean Fennessy, Noah Malale
Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick, Co-Producer: Nick Hasse
Cinematographer: Naiti Gamez
Editor: Cindy Lee, Adam Bolt
Music: Charlie Rosen
Language: English
Country: USA
Year: 2021
“Listening to Kenny G” debuts on HBO December 2nd

DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, runs in-person November 10-18 at IFC Center, SVA Theatre, and Cinépolis Chelsea and continues online until November 28.