Late last month, the City Winery, a trendy Manhattan music venue, welcomed an unusual band to its stage: ’60s Cambodian surf-rock outfit Baksey Cham Krong. Three of the original four members of the band were there, playing on stage together for the first time since 1967 in Cambodia.
The emotional show – which also featured Cambodia’s original hard rock band, Drakkar, among others – accompanied the US premiere of the documentary film Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, kick-starting an epic two-month coast-to-coast run of screenings – a few also featuring concerts - that has turned thousands into new fans of Cambodian golden age rock ’n’ roll.
The nearly two-hour film that documents Cambodia’s vibrant rock music scene of the 1950s to 1970s and – its demise at the hands of the Khmer Rouge – has received glowing write-ups from the likes of Rolling Stone, The New York Times, the Boston Globe and others. The popular entertainment site the AV Club gave it an “A-” grade and it has a 7.8 out of 10 average star rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. “[This film] will surely appeal to rock ’n’ rollers, but deserves the widest possible audience,” wrote a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle.
It took filmmaker John Pirozzi 10 years to complete the documentary, nosing through crates and crates of archival material and conducting nearly 80 interviews in three different languages in four countries.
“It’s been an overwhelmingly positive response,” said the New York-based filmmaker. “I think it’s because I took it very seriously and did not rush it. Also, a lot of the film is about the modern history of the country, and I tried to show it from an impartial perspective as much as possible.”
Reactions in Cambodia have been equally favourable.
“I think that enough time has passed that people are a little more open to looking at things,” reasoned Pirozzi. “When something that tragic and dramatic happens, people need a little distance and time to even want to look at things.
“Because the film really focuses more on something positive, I think a lot of Cambodians really appreciate that. And the music really is great,” he added.
For those in the Kingdom who didn’t manage to catch the film at its Phnom Penh premiere at the Chaktomuk Theatre last year or the Cambodian International Film Festival, have no fear. Pirozzi is currently in the midst of mapping out a film tour of the country that will hopefully get started towards the end of the year, he says.
Meanwhile, the film’s finely curated soundtrack – featuring Baksey Cham Krong, Drakkar, Sinn Sisamouth and Yol Aularong among others – became available this week online for digital download.
While the film’s triumphant debut has brought Pirozzi much joy, he has not been the only one gratified by its success. The surviving musicians who featured in the film have also been affected, especially those who played concerts during the US tour.
“I think it’s a part of their life that they had put behind them, because so much has happened to them and it was so long ago,” says Pirozzi. “They’re finally getting some international recognition, which is really nice.”
To buy a digital copy of Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten soundtrack, head to dust-digital.com. - BRENT CRANE, BOSTON, USA