The most beautiful and haunting words in John Pirozzi's vibrant documentary Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll are heard at the beginning: "When we were young, we loved being modern." That line has the succinct poetry of a song lyric, and the still photograph that accompanies it -- of a radiant young woman in a stripy minidress and white go-go boots -- is a kind of visual music. The woman in the picture, Sieng Vanthy, was a pop singer in late-1960s–early-1970s Cambodia, the setting for a brief but mighty rock 'n' roll renaissance that few outsiders know about: Under the reign of Prince Sihanouk, who strongly encouraged development of the arts, young Cambodians invented their own brand of pop, a melding of the country's traditional styles with Western influences and Afro-Cuban rhythms. But with the Khmer Rouge invasion, in the spring of 1975, the music disappeared: As part of their campaign to purge all Western influence from the country, Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot and his regime systematically put intellectuals and artists to death. With Don't Think I've Forgotten, Pirozzi resurrects and revives this ghost music, breathing life into it once again.
Because the Khmer Rouge destroyed so many works of art, very little footage of the era has survived. But almost miraculously, many recordings have been preserved, in some cases because music had been transferred to cassette before the Khmer Rouge could destroy citizens' 45s and LPs. It has taken Pirozzi some ten years to complete Don't Think I've Forgotten, and the result isn't just a rich patchwork tapestry of powerful and ebullient music, but a mini cultural history of a country that Americans know little about.