The documentary “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll” recounts the Phnom Penh pop scene, from Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953 until the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in the 1970s.
Director John Pirozzi deftly contextualizes the confluence of cultural and political forces that helped formulate the era’s Cambodian pop, with French, Afro-Cuban and South American influences all in the mix. That said, the music here is derivative and prosaic. Among the songs featured are Khmer-language covers of James Taylor, Tito Puente and the Franco-Italian chanteuse Rina Ketty — and those do not improve upon the originals in the slightest.
The film proves much more valuable as a historical allegory than as a musical survey. The interviewees’ fond reminiscences of the country’s postcolonial monarchical rule seem skewed to say the least, as the regime’s cultural agenda of promoting syrupy pop ditties emitted an air of let-them-eat-cake indulgence amid widespread poverty.
It’s only when recounting the death of the music during Pol Pot’s tyranny that the film begins to resonate. The Khmer Rouge had set out to eradicate everything with a hint of Western influence. The entire pop scene vanished, as did some of its brightest stars, such as Sinn Sisamouth, Pan Ron and Yol Aularong. They became casualties of a cultural revolution and paid the ultimate price for their art.
“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll”
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood.