By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco, the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley, and the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol.
With The Wrecking Crew, Lambert & Stamp, and now this passionate and exhaustive story of the pre-Khmer Rouge pop music scene in Cambodia, 2015 is already a solid year for rock-and-roll documentaries. After a fairly awkward first act, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten hits a tight and absorbing groove, tracing the growth of Cambodian rock from the tuxedo-and-ballgown, Paul Anka-like primordial ooze of the early 1960s through the pre-punk underground scene of the early 1970s.
Flush with American cash during a brief period of urban prosperity after their independence from France and before the Vietnam War raged onto their doorstep, the musicians of neutral Cambodia merged western influences with their own deeply rooted musical culture. Director John Pirozzi follows the evolution until its screeching halt at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, militant Communists who evacuated the cities and forced urbanites to become agricultural slaves, killing millions in the process.
Pirozzi finds musical influences ranging from Afro-Cuban bands and French rockers to San Francisco hippies and Detroit wild men. Still, the film is most successful as an examination of the way that art reacts to social upheaval and reflects the political power system, mutating to fit the reality of our lives whether we like it or not.