Reviews

SELECTED REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS
for
SOUNDIES: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION

 

An essential set in terms of both quality and quantity, with no shortage of amazing performances to enjoy and discuss. The most radical aspects of the package are its emphasis on black performers and its thematic organization largely along social, racial, political and gender lines. … an invaluable musical and visual record of who we are as a people and a culture.

—Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal,
July 29, 2023

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Delson’s curation is creative. . . . her strongest points are made through juxtaposition. The introductory section basically alternates Black bands and performers with white ones, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions about the origins and virtuosi of American entertainment. . . . To use a term that migrated from Black slang to general usage during the 1940s, Soundies: The Ultimate Collection is a deep dig.
— J. Hoberman, New York Review of Books
September 2, 2023
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While they might not have been formally in charge, the Black performers in Soundies likely had a lot of sway as collaborators to ensure that the results didn’t come off as square to Black viewers. I kept being surprised by bits of slang deployed seemingly before their time, as when June Richmond, in 1944’s “47th Street Jive,” sings, “I met a hip cat/ He called me a fly chick.”

That things-to-come feeling is most vivid in one of my favorite subsections of the Soundies collection, “Heading Toward Rock ’n’ Roll.” The eight songs here stage a mid-1940s debate over whether swing music was dead and what would follow. … The entire sequence suggests a counter-history in which, without the conservative backlash of the postwar years, jazz transitioned directly into rock without any radical break. The whole course of youth culture could have been different.

A pop-cultural X-ray of this pivotal decade much friskier than any history book. 

—Carl Wilson, Slate
August 2, 2023

 

Few items that have come through the transom in recent months have elicited as much joy, as much wonder and surprise, as “Soundies: The Ultimate Collection.” … [It offers] a staggering array of talent and a kaleidoscopic overview of the nation’s citizenry. “Stirring Up the Melting Pot” is the title of one section of “Soundies,”and I dare say the collection, as a whole, gives a truer overview of American culture than did Hollywood of the time. … A valuable contribution to our understanding of 20th century America and an indicator of how pop culture may well be the most effective agent for fostering true diversity.

—Mario Naves, New York Sun,
July 27, 2023

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A short-lived phenomenon that bridged the chronological gap between radio and television. . . . present[ing] a surprisingly complex image of American life, including race and gender. . . . Soundies were largely ignored by Hollywood’s strict Production Code, so some of them are delightfully raunchy.

One of the most essential home entertainment releases of the year. … smartly curated and presented in a way that keeps you captivated from section to section. Highly Recommended. 

—Dillon Gonzales, Geek Vibes Nation
August 12, 2023

 

 

The collection is hosted and curated by Susan Delson, who has appeared on Turner Classic Movies and has recently written the book Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time. She provides broad thematic intros to each disc and then more focused intros for each eight-film package; she is often joined by conservationist Ina Archer. Both women are clearly fond of the Soundies format, even if some of the subject matter of certain shorts can get dicey. A sizable chunk of the included films traffic in racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes, but Delson and Archer do much more than simply offer content warnings: they highlight subversive alternatives that can also be found in the Soundies film library which challenge those same stereotypes.

This collection is thoughtfully and entertainingly compiled, with an eye toward preserving and contextualizing this archival material but also toward reviving a bygone experience. When a Soundie ends, there’s the wonder and anticipation of what the heck the next one will have to offer. Often, it’s not exactly what you expect. Recommended. 

—Justin Remer, Hi-Def Digest
July 31, 2023

 

 

 

 

Credit for this outstanding (or, self-described, “Ultimate”) collection is due to the exhaustive work of Susan Delson, former film programmer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While writing a biography of filmmaker Dudley Murphy [Dudley Murphy, Hollywood Wild Card], she viewed the roughly ten Soundies that he directed in 1941. This led to the opportunity to explore many others through research at the Library of Congress, resulting in another book, published in late-2021—Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen—and, in another rewarding feature of the Soundies home-video collection, an accompanying booklet essay, “A Densely Layered History” (alongside essays by Ellen Scott and Mark Cantor).

… The multi-talented Bret Wood produced (and edited) the ambitious project. “He has a wonderful feel for the material,” explained Delson, adding that “we were in agreement on what we wanted the package to be—wide-ranging, inclusive, and unflinching about the racism and other negatives.” . . . It can be shocking for the uninitiated but the decision to keep these unsavory elements available for audiences to view should be commended. The set includes video-introductions to each chapter and the “Outrageously Incorrect—and Sometimes Subversive” selections benefit from an apt context for their inclusion.

—Jonathan Marlow, Hammer to Nail
August 23, 2023

The lineage to music videos is crystal clear, but this remarkable collection (assembling over 200 vintage Soundies, totaling 10 hours) isn’t as simplistic as all that. Curated and hosted by historian Susan Delson, the shorts are organized by themes, styles, and periods, noteworthy not only for the music they’ve preserved (no small achievement, considering how many capture Black artists in their prime), but for what their presentation is telling us about music, race, and culture between the notes.

—Jason Bailey, Crooked Marquee – Pick of the Week
August 15, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An exhilarating expedition through the kaleidoscope of American popular culture. … This fantastic set offers a unique chance to revisit an essential yet often overlooked chapter of American popular culture with insightful on-screen introductions, a booklet with essays, photographs, and much more. 

Chris Jones, Overly Honest Movie Reviews
July 20, 2023

 

 

 

 

I doubt I will experience a more enjoyable home video release this year. My only complaint is I want more. While this is the largest collection of Soundies ever presented in a single home video release, it just scratches the surface of the 1,800+ films produced. I hope this Blu-ray set sells so well that it encourages Kino Lorber to produce a Volume 2, 3, 4… (well, you get the idea).

William T. Garver, It Came From the Bottom Shelf!
July 30, 2023

 

 

A tribute to the power and influence of music and the movies and, as Delson writes about the Soundies themselves, “A real-time pop culture portrait of the United States.”

—Charlie Largent, Trailers from Hell
August 5, 2023

 

 

Just tremendous . . . You truly can’t get any more entertainment value for your money than in this set!

—Jason Lockard, Classic Cinema Magazine
August 9, 2023

A testament to film preservation … Kudos to Kino Lorber and the Library of Congress for releasing this wonderful set.

—Evans Above, Digital Hit

August 9, 2023

 

 

 

Many hours of watching, reading, and listening enjoyment, and it’s also an extremely educational piece of musical, film, and cultural history. Very highly recommended.

—Laura Grieve, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings
October 26, 2023

It’s  the lesser-known hillbilly combo, Redd Harper and the Sells, that really stands out thanks to British-born actress Florence Gill. While band members sporting fake beards crank out “There’s a Hole in the Old Oaken Bucket” on guitar, concertina, and tea kettle, an elderly Florence steals the show by clucking like a chicken. Her fowl imitation is so realistic that she often appeared as a hen in Disney cartoons. Unforgettable!

—Russ Tarby, Syncopated Times
October 31, 2023

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEWS

 “How ‘Soundies’ spotlighted Black performers in the 1940s,” October 4, 2023

—Jill Ryan, Here & Now, WBUR Boston

 

“Soundies: The Ultimate Collection and Interview with Curator Susan Delson,” August 24, 2023

—Raquel Stecher, Out of the Past

 

“Talking ‘Soundies: The Ultimate Collection’ with Series Curator Susan Delson,” August 5, 2023 

—Rachel Bellwoar, Comicon.com

 

Mike Gebert interviews Susan Delson, July 5, 2023

NitrateVille Radio, starts at 64:19 approx. 43 minutes

 

Max Foizey interviews Susan Delson, July 25, 2023

—Max on Movies – Zekefilm approx. 12 minutes

 

“Soundies: 1940s music videos gave Black performers a time to shine in the Jim Crow era,” September 8, 2023 

—Jill Ryan, KJZZ Radio, Phoenix