Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reel Asian Film Review - Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll

The Central Market is and always has been the heartbeat of Cambodia's largest City Phnom Phenh. It's where people gather to meet, do their shopping and is a constant buzz of activity. The Market is so vital that it is presented as a character in John Pirozzi documentary on Cambodian music. Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll  which is more of a historical journey of the country rather than a documentary on Rock and Roll.

Director Pirozzi starts his narrative back with the handover of Cambodia from the French to its people in 1953. The Royal Family was very much involved in music and the arts. The Queen ran the Royal ballet and the King played Saxophone. The Arts were encouraged and music developed just like it did any other place in the world. The first major star in a Frank Sinatra mould was Sinn Sisamouth.  He emerged in the late 50's and constantly adapted to the style of the day.

In the 10 year period after Independence, Cambodia's music industry hit its stride.  Following Sisamouth guitar bands started to emerge lead by Baksei then the Bayon Band formed by an ex Bakesi member and later Drakkar. They would play power chords the same as any British or American band sing to the same rhythm but in Khmer instead of English.  Cambodian bands would see the western acts on TV then copy their moves, choreography and style of dress.

Cambodia had its chanteuses as well their songs were mostly sad as they were mainly about break ups, deception and despair. The most popular being Ros Serey Sothea who teamed up with Sinn Sisamouth in the 60's to form a power duo. Not far behind were Pen Ran and Houy Meas who had a very popular show on National Radio then as the 60's turned to the 70's Pou Vannary. The bad boy rebel singer role was filled by Yol Ailarong who sarcastically sang about being a good student and ballads about the popular mode of transportation the cyclo.

Events started to change in the early 70's.  The Vietnam War was raging next door and Cambodia tired to say neutral between both sides. But when the North Vietnamese entered the northern region of the country U.S. President Nixon laid out a plan to stop the advancement of Communism 1973. A bombing campaign of a neutral country that lasted for 200 straight days and lead rural Cambodians into the waiting arms of the surging Communist Khmer Rouge. Two years later on April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge let by Pol Pot rolled into Phnom Penh and immediately began to dismantle urban society and anything Western emptying the city sending everyone to the countryside to work in the rice fields. Their reign lasted until a more moderate Vietnamese force took over in January 1979 but by then many of the leading artist from the 60's had been executed or killed on the forced march to the countryside in the end more than 2,000,000 citizens were dead. Many families with 8 or 12 members before the take over were down to 1 or 2 after.

Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll is an account of Cambodia's history from the end of colonist through to modern day. Pirozzi film features footage from the golden era of the 60's that had not been seen in the country or know by the current generation. The main group of artists are still popular today and their recordings are prominent in every music outlet.
It is a film I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll | John Priozzi | U.S.A. / Cambodia /  France | 2014 | 105 Minutes.

Tags; Documentary, Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Serey Sothea, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Afro-Cuban, Cha Cha Cha, Go- Go, Power Chords, Richard Nixon, Vietnam, Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot.

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