This glimpse into the forgotten musical past of Cambodian 50’s Rock & Roll is more a window into history…
9 years in the making, and yet that doesn’t seem enough time to expose all the tragedies of the oppressive Khmer Rouge’s bloody reign, and it’s dramatic effect on all aspects of art in the country of Cambodia. Director John Pirozzi shines a spotlight on this era in Cambodian history when pop and rock music was rampant through the streets, being one of the few things that connected everyone across the country at the time.
The film features extensive archival footage of many of the artists profiled in the film, alongside interviews with the few survivors left from the bloody Khmer Rouge. It acts more as a concise historical dissection than a music documentary, getting to the heart of local feelings and emotions during the time of 1965-1975, before diving into the growth of the communist Khmer Rouge sweeping the country and massacring artistic freedom.
The mass genocide that follows, and is briefly mentioned in the film, killed many of the top music stars in Cambodia, and they’re all mourned on the screen by relatives, colleagues and old fans. This is interspersed through interviews with the former U.S ambassador and other English speakers, who both comment on the tragedy of the disruption in this era, and the previous growth and happy times of the rock music movement.
“Cambodia is deeply routed in music” boldly states one interviewee; and it shows true as locals in the streets dance freely, and all citizens in the country during the time express their love for the arts. Clubs opened early, and people danced on the streets until 2am. In the later years it’s told that as American troops brought Western music to Vietnam, the Cambodian locals adapted popular Western songs mixing Khmer words into the lyrics, creating pieces that were nationally loved and also catch, such as the bilingual cover of “You’ve Got A Friend” by Pou Vannary.
The true heart of the documentary itself lies not at exposing the horrors of the past, the losses of Cambodia, or the expose of the time. The heart itself lies in the fond memories of the interviewees, the beautiful archival footage and accompanying music that is lavished throughout, you can barely go 20 seconds without hearing a new song, Whilst some are short and some are long, they’re all an interesting insight into the history of this wonderful country, and also plain catchy whilst helping to liven up the film a bit more from being 105 minutes of dry sit-down interviews with a few posters and album art occasionally appearing on screen.
Perhaps it’s just the style of films I’ve watched this year, but “Lost Rock & Roll” plays out a lot like my thoughts of earlier films in 2015 such as The Last Reel, Yangon Calling – Punk In Myanmar, or Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens. It’s obvious at the similarities to The Last Reel when both are set in similar time periods, and The Last Reel has been critically acclaimed as factually correct and also focuses on lost arts in the country. Punk in Myanmar and Kings of the Wind are more thematic films that explore a lack of artistic exploration in their home country, of which is lavish in this documentary, and the way that the locals all flood in from the countryside to one central city purely to experience the arts is almost haunting in how much of an effect it had on Cambodian lives.
There are a lot of fond memories in Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll, and a lot of great songs entwined throughout which help to jazz the film up. It does drag on quite a lot, and jumps around repetitively through the timeline instead of staying linear, which does cause some disorientation for those not familiar with Cambodian history. The runtime is probably half a hour too long, but the subject matter deserves the extra moments, and no genocide in history deserves to be packaged neatly into 70 minutes to avoid a documentary that drags. Overall, Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll is less of a musical exploration documentary, and more a window into the historical past of the country, with music used as a theme to explore how the arts brought the locals together in the prior years to the Khmer Rouge regime.
Overlook the constant seated interviews and poster artwork, stay for the beautiful historical interviews and information retelling, leave with the graceful classic Cambodian rock & roll jingling in your eyes.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll is currently available to watch on iTunes, GooglePlay, Vimeo OnDemand and Amazon Prime in the US.
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