An engaging (if not entirely groundbreaking) concert film with some needed topicality.
In many ways, prisons are filing cabinets for people who have drifted away from society and largely been forgotten by those they left behind. In 1968, Johnny Cash played a concert in Folsom State Prison, as a reminder to the people there that they were at least partially remembered. Fifty years later, Los Tigres del Norte, one of the most popular and influential bands in Latin music (founded in the same year that legendary concert took place), played the same venue, but not the same crowd; in that half-century, the facility hasn’t changed, but the people in it have. Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison, new on Netflix today, makes reference to the burgeoning Latin community within the prison; one inmate, from a family of norteño musicians, is invited to play on-stage.
Los Tigres del Norte feel related to Cash, not just musically, but spiritually, as storytellers who speak for and to the downtrodden. Their performance at Folsom Prison is partially a celebration of his, but also a stand against a contemporary culture within which people of certain skin color or ethnicity are marginalized without necessarily having to be locked away; the land of the free its own kind of prison.
As a piece of documentary filmmaking, Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison is not groundbreakingly original or even original at all — it combines concert footage with voiceover and interviews with the prisoners, whose stories give the whole film its emotional texture. The importance of music — especially that which speaks to people’s personal experiences — can’t be overstated among a population whose lives are accentuated by their soundtrack.
There is no shortage of concert films on Netflix, from Beyonce’s Homecoming to large portions of the Travis Scott documentary, and among that crowd, Los Tigres del Norte at Folsom Prison only stands out for its uplifting and positive sensibility. But in our current times, perhaps that’s enough, and anyone who considers themselves a fan of the band’s music — or a fan, I think, of music in general — won’t be disappointed by this celebratory effort.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.