Docs That Rock

Late Tribeca Report: Soundtrack for a Revolution


Doc awards for bravery should be handed to anyone attempting to do a civil rights era project. Eyes on the Prize is just one many films that will teach future generations about the United States’ biggest injustice. And since the movement occurred in the heyday of television, there already exists ample footage of the events and headlines, which have been replayed often.

Noted documentarians Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman went at it anyway and came away with a fine survey called Soundtrack for a Revolution. The conceit was that contemporary artists like John Legend, The Roots, Wyclef Jean, etc. would do updated versions of the spiritual hymnals that gave strength to the civil rights activists. I thought there would be much more delving into the musicology and legends behind the songs, but there was little of it, perhaps because many of the hymnals have ancient roots even if the lyrics were modernized during the movement. Instead, the contemporary songs done in a recording studio served as accompaniments to the chronological storytelling moments. For me, Richie Havens was the standout but Anthony Hamilton (in the trailer above) also deserves props.

Yet the great music couldn’t augment the storyline, which was expertly told, but very well known by now, at least by my generation. I couldn’t help but think that the soundtrack of Soundtrack might be a bit more powerful experience than the film. A review in Variety sort of agreed and wrote, “a stirring civics lesson combined with glossy modern music videos of the movement’s greatest hits, the pic never quite reconciles its different agendas.” Of course, I’m sure the film would be immensely rewarding for younger viewers during their first encounter with this wretched history.

The film was funded by Danny Glover’s Louverture Films (whose most recent doc accomplishment was the Hurricane Katrina doc Trouble the Waters.) The company is dedicated to the development and production of films of historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity. Like Participant Media or Agape Films, these deep pocketed companies with a keen interest in the documentary arts will hopefully continue to birth many other films during this difficult media climate.

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June 15, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] I liked Soundtrack (especially the music) but I really liked some of the other music docs that were not nominated, including Anvil: The Story of Anvil, It Might Get Loud and Afghan Star. Anvil, in particular, has been hailed by many critics as perhaps the best film of the year so its omission in the best doc category is puzzling. (Maybe it will get a best picture nomination?) Following that film’s progress (and even having my company make an investment in its distribution) makes it all the more wrenching. As anyone who has seen the film knows, Anvil is worth rooting for. […]

    Pingback by Most Music Docs Hosed by Oscars « Docs That Rock | November 19, 2009 | Reply


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