Soundtrack for a Revolution

Movie review: 'Soundtrack for a Revolution'

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2010

By now, the sight of demonstrators linking arms and singing "We Shall Overcome" has become so common as to be generic. "Soundtrack for a Revolution," a stirring documentary by Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, revisits the roots of the song within the American civil rights movement, in which anthems, hymns and chants served as both propulsive force and soothing balm during a time of searing violence and pain.

Interviewing such civil rights era luminaries as John Lewis and Andrew Young, as well as several lesser-known leaders of the movement, "Soundtrack for a Revolution" examines the various prongs of the campaign for African American equality in the South -- the lunch-counter sit-ins, bus boycotts, marches and mass arrests -- and pairs each action with a song. Through vivid archival material and voice-overs, the filmmakers create moving vignettes that, taken together, form a fascinating primer on nonviolence as a political force and discipline. (And its nominal subject notwithstanding, the film's plethora of visual images testifies to the sophistication with which activists used the media in turning hearts in the North.)

"Soundtrack for a Revolution" meets with more-uneven success when it depicts modern-day musicians -- including Joss Stone, John Legend, the Roots and Wyclef Jean -- delivering their take on the civil-rights classics. The world won't be rocked by Stone's belabored cover of "Eyes on the Prize." But Jean's rendition of Phil Ochs's stinging "Here's to the State of Mississippi," following the film's chapter on the murder of three voting rights activists in 1964, burns like an ember that will never go out.

*** Unrated. At AFI's Silver Theatre. Contains some disturbing images and material. 82 minutes.

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