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Thunder Soul (DVD Review)

31 Jan, 2012 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Street 1/31/12
Box Office $0.14 million
$19.98 DVD
Rated ‘PG’ for brief language and momentary historical smoking.

Thunder Soul paints a sentimental, nostalgic picture of an everyday hero, who both directly and indirectly made a lasting impression on generations of people.

Conrad “Prof” Johnson, the band director at Houston’s Kashmere High School in the 1960s and ’70s, was a seasoned musician, mentor and, to some students, the only father figure they knew. While what Prof did for those students in the classroom was commendable (he made world-traveling, record-selling musicians out of these young women and men), it’s what he did for them in real life that made him remarkable. One of his students says, “He didn’t just teach us the music — he taught us how to be men.”

Thunder Soul follows the band members, now approaching their 50s, as they reunite the jazz ensemble-turned-funk powerhouse decades years later to honor their beloved teacher — before it’s too late. Seen here in his early 90s, Prof had become frail, yet still impassioned by his Kashmere Stage Band, also known as ThunderSoul. It’s hard to see images of him clinging to life in a hospital bed, contrasted with footage of him in his heyday, and not be moved. Nonetheless, the movie succeeds at making us believers in Prof’s legacy. (He died in 2008.)

The documentary is a visual time capsule of sorts, retracing the styles (afros, platform shoes, bell bottoms, leisure suits, etc.) and music (George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, The Commodores, etc.) of the day. In the ’70s, the nation was emerging from the Civil Rights Movement and into the Black Power Movement, which afforded the all-black band more freedom and opportunities to showcase their talents.

This is manifested in the film through its incredible soundtrack, from the hits by the popular musicians on the charts at the time, to the stage band’s original, spunky and soulful tunes. ThunderSoul is one bad band (bad meaning outstanding, of course).

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