The Corner

‘You Can’t Fake the Funk’

That’s a (perfectly phrased!) lesson the conservative journalist Robert A. George taught me many years ago. And it was in evidence in a fascinating documentary I saw on Tuesday night. Yes, Tuesday night: As most of NR World was watching President Obama’s spin, and then watching others spin for and against President Obama, I was down in Greenwich Village at the NYC premiere of a film that will be shown on VH1 next week: Finding the Funk, a history of a form of American music that in my view gets too little attention and respect.

Finding the Funk captures the spirit of the funk music of the late Sixties and early Seventies — which is an especially impressive accomplishment, since the film’s director, Nelson George, couldn’t get the rights to replay much of the music that was his subject. But I think the music performances in the film are compelling enough to send viewers in search of the original albums of such performers as George Clinton and his Parliament Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Ohio Players. The music in the film is true to the period, and so are the interviews with such luminaries as James Brown, Nile Rodgers, George Clinton, and even Sly Stone himself (who, it turns out, hardly ever gives interviews).

Funk is an artifact of a joyfully creative period in African-American history: simultaneously optimistic in the immediate aftermath of the victories of the civil-rights movement, and grittily realistic in its coping with some of the harsh realities of the Seventies. The film puts funk in historical context, as the source of a lot of what became disco and hip-hop; but those of us who grew up with funk can be grateful for a film that also celebrates what funk was in and of itself: a wonderful sound that not only captured an era but also was beautiful enough to transcend it.

The documentary will air on VH1, on February 4.