Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” was not an out of the box hit when it opened last Friday, July 2nd.
According to the website the-numbers.com, “Summer of Soul” made just $247,318 on its opening night and went downhill from there. By Thursday it took in just $81,633, for a total of just over $1 million in six days.
At the same time it’s playing on Hulu, which may have drawn off potential audience members. How it will do this weekend remains a mystery and may stay that way since Searchlight doesn’t report weekend numbers anymore.
“Summer of Soul” is an archivist’s documentary, bringing together footage from the Harlem Musical Festival which ran for several weeks in Mt. Morris Park in the summer of 1969 before the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York.
There are some real gems of performances from Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the 5th Dimension, Sly & the Family Stone, etc.
At the time those artists signed releases and may or may not have been paid. The footage existed all these years, and was made into a CBS special for TV that aired in 1969. There were also TV specials made from the footage for various foreign countries. So the footage existed and was used. It wasn’t “lost” as it was described.
What Questlove has done is take the footage and add interviews with some contemporaries and a few people from the old days who were there. But “Summer of Soul” isn’t exactly new. It’s updated from the original CBS special.
It would also be nice to know if the musicians are being paid now from whatever money is earned. When I made “Only the Strong Survive” with Pennebaker Hegedus Films in 2002, we made sure the artists involved were paid. It should be the whole gestalt of “Summer of Soul.” But so far Cberyl Ruffin, daughter of Temptations singer David Ruffin, has indicated no effort has been made in that direction. I hope Searchlight remedies that as soon as possible.
So by all means, watch “Summer of Soul” on Hulu and enjoy it. Imagine that Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, already stars, are still on the precipice of their monster successes of the 1970s.
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