5 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, October 7th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes, Rated PG
Directed by Mark Landsman
The best documentaries in my opinion, always include discovery. A filmmaker sets out to shoot a real-life story, and often the story unfolds all by itself...that's the beauty and the volatile nature of the documentary film. You can't plan for it, you definitely can't script it, and when unexpected discoveries occur, the film that you set out to make ends up being something entirely different. Need an example of what I'm talking about? Take the documentary "Thunder Soul." What starts as a simple story about a high school band reunion ends up being one of the most poignant documentaries of the year.
The basic premise is that alumni from Kashmere High School gather together to give a surprise reunion performance for their beloved band leader. This is no ordinary band leader, and this is no ordinary band...in fact, the Kashmere High School Stage Band was an enormously popular and ground-breaking funk powerhouse in the early 1970s. The band leader was Conrad "Prof" Johnson, and the all-black school near Houston, TX was put on the map due to his prolific leadership.
The film has us meet several former band members, now in their 50s and 60s I'd presume, who return to the school and the band as they practice for their upcoming gig, 35 years after leaving school. We hear a lot of great funk music from the band, mixed with old footage as we learn all about the Kashmere High School Stage Band, and their impact. In the era of the civil rights movement, the film also does a great job of not only telling us what the Kashmere Band did, but why what they did was so important.
But if a fascinating and sad twist, halfway through rehearsal, Prof has a heart-attack. Nobody knows if the already old and frail man will make the show. What was meant to be a surprise is now revealed to Prof...that his former students, out of sheer love and respect, are planning a reunion concert just for him. The movie veers away from a reunion story, to a race against time...the band wants nothing more than for Prof to hold on long enough to see them play, and to see just how thankful they are that he impacted their lives, and in many cases, saved their lives.
As the musicians struggle to re-learn their instruments, we see doctors, lawyers, and would-be convicts from all walks of life, assemble out of love for a man that touched their lives and set them on a new course in life.
I can guarantee you that the movie that director Mark Landsman set out to make wasn't what the movie eventually became. It's one-part music documentary, one-part history lesson, and one-part biopic on the amazing life and teachings of Prof Johnson. It's sad, touching, and moving, but don't forget the funk...this movie has as much soul as the band that it is spotlighting.
"Thunder Soul" is easily one of the best documentary films of the year, and is a movie definitely worth watching.
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