Saturday, July 07, 2012
Thunder Soul (Mark Landsman, 2010)
With that out of the way, let's move on. Thunder Soul is the story the Kashmere High School Band, and the reunion that would become Kashmere High School Alumni Band, and their band leader, Conrad "Prof" Johnson. They became the best high school band in the country, and one of the best funk bands in the country, high school, amateur, professional or otherwise.
The great thing about Thunder Soul is that it isn't the kind of cloyingly sweet feel good tripe that so many documentaries of it's ilk become. Is it "feel good"? Absolutely. Does it have something positive to say about it's subjects and their experience? Yes. What it doesn't do is reach for some kind of overarching metaphor about the human condition and beat the audience with some kind of positivist message. It tells the story of these people, the context in which the events it portrays take place and it always lets them speak for themselves. In that way, it becomes something the viewer can digest in their own time, and in many ways, find their own meaning in. There's a whole lot that can be culled from the experience and actions of the Kashmere High School Alumni Band, but it's up to the audience to decide what exactly about those things are most worthy of being given that time and thought. Mark Landsman has enough respect for both his subjects and his audience to leave all of that up to them.
Without doubt, this is one of the most vibrant and human music documentaries I've ever seen. Because it's not weighed down with trying to debunk or uphold a band or scene that is already enshrined in the popular imagination, it has no need to deal with the kind of sensationalism that is unfortunately is a part of the music industry to such a degree that very few music documentaries are able to tell a complete story about their subjects without contending with it. It's a warm film, without shearing off the warts of the subjects in order to present some fantasized ideal that could never exist.
This is going to be one of the shortest reviews I've ever posted. The reason for that being, that so long as you don't find good funk music offensive somehow (and I'm hoping that the number of people who still fall in that category is infinitesimal at this point), there's absolutely nothing about this doc to dislike. It's a vibrant film, celebrating the art of musicianship, community, education, and the kind of disciplined hard work that comes with doing anything as well as this band played funk music. More than being worth the time it took to watch it, I felt I didn't want it to end, which is an extremely rare quality for a documentary. If you have any taste for documentary film, see this one A.S.A.P.