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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Soundtrack for a Revolution


Anyone who has so much as taken a social studies class in high school will have some knowledge of the black civil rights movement in the United States. After countless examples of cinema and documentaries devoted to the movement, it proves difficult to offer a fresh angle on the subject. That’s where documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution aims, using the angle of the movement’s music and its context to retell events.

The documentary allows activists, musicians and key figures involved in the movement to retell their versions of events and also, introduce the music and its context within the history. The pacing works episodically, with each song linked to a different event, explained and retold through interviews and accompanied by real footage and photography. These segments are also intercut with contemporary R&B, hip-hop and gospel artists, such as the Roots, John Legend, Joss Stone and The Blind Boys of Alabama rehashing their own versions of the songs.

The edit is excellent, with the interview subjects, old footage and music flowing seamlessly. Events including the bus boycotts, the Washington March and Luther King’s funeral procession are elegantly reconstructed via astounding footage and photography. The interviewees bring the emotional heft with evident history within their weathered faces. Even though we have seen it all in documentaries before, this is well executed and still deeply fascinating.

However, the connection between the events and its music isn’t a strong one and the film relies a lot more on its retelling of important incidents than it does on its musical history. It feels more like an exploitation of an untapped angle than a fresh perspective, but for the most part it works. The music sometimes complements the footage excellently, particularly Wyclef Jean’s cover of ‘Here’s to the State of Mississippi’ over a harrowing sequence of brutality in the aforementioned state.

While the musical side of things was never going to pack the same punch as the movement’s key events, it is never quite irrelevant enough to be detrimental to the film. For anybody with either a mild interest in this piece of history, or a fan of the music, this is a well made and compelling tribute to the people and music of a revolution.

Director: Bill Guttentag/Dan Sturman
Part of the World Cinema Showcase


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