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Sundance: Little Richard: I Am Everything

“I let it all hang out… every bit.”

Little Richard

Little Richard was a Rock ‘n’ Roll icon. He called himself the “brown Liberace” but really he couldn’t be compared with anyone else. He was a groundbreaking in his delivery and had a style all his own. He rocked a pencil thin mustache, a tall bouffant and his signature wardrobe. Songs like Good Golly Miss Molly, Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally have become bonafide classics. But Little Richard was never really given his due for just how influential he was.His explosive energy made him a force to be reckoned with on stage and inspired countless musicians including  The Beatles, Elvis, David Bowie, James Brown, The Rolling Stones and more.

A new documentary sets out to set the record straight about who Little Richard really was. Directed by Lisa Cortés, Little Richard: I Am Everything paints the portrait of a man who was a walking contradiction. The film goes into depth about his music career, his early influences, how he molded his image and took the nation by storm and the many times he went unrecognized for being a trailblazer. It also explores LIttle Richard’s sexuality and how it often conflicted with his deeply religious beliefs.

The documentary is a bit on the long side and includes some stylistic elements and flourishes that seemed unnecessary.  And ending felt rushed. With that said, the film was quite engrossing. It does a tremendous job demonstrating his impact on the industry as well as the dichotomy between his private and public life. 

Talking heads include Mick Jagger, John Waters, Billy Porter, Tom Jones, Nile Rodgers, scholars, historians, family members and more.

Little Richard: I Am Everything premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It will air on CNN and stream on HBO Max at a future date.

SXSW: Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story is a joyous celebration of the famed music festival and its home base. Started in 1970 by George Wein, who also founded the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has celebrated music of all types, exposing its attendees to a rich and diverse array of performers. New Orleans has always been a cultural center for music and art and the festival pays homage to that. The documentary tells the history of the festival and shares performances from the 50th anniversary in 2019. There is also archival footage of festivals past and interviews with notable artists. Performers include Earth, Wind and Fire, Al Green, Irma Thomas, Ellis Marsalis and family, and more. I could have done without the performances by Katy Perry, Pitbull and other more popular entertainers as I felt that was an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to see more of the indie artists and legacy performers instead.

This is not a historical biography and there is just a smattering of background and context offered. Instead, the documentary takes the viewer into the world of the festival as though they were stopping at the different stages and tents to take in the various offerings. There is also a lot of appreciation for New Orleans , its history, its music and its people.

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. It’s distributed by Sony Picture Classics.

How They Got Over: Gospel Quartets and the Road to Rock & Roll

Produced by Robert Clem and Mike Tannen, How They Got Over is a vibrant tribute to the gospel quartets of the early to mid-20th Century. Groups like the Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds, Highway QCs and the Blind Boys of Alabama, performed all over the country bringing their energy and exuberant showmanship to eager audiences. Gospel quartets became so incredibly popular especially with their spirited performances, that they went on to  have a major impact on secular music, in particular R&B and Rock and Roll. The same emotion put into a song of worship could easily be transferred to love songs. Some artists like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls got their start in gospel before making the transition over to secular. And once that transition was made, artists were no longer welcomed back into the tight knit world of gospel music.

Gospel quartets and their influence on the energy and style of rock and roll has been overlooked and  How They Got Over seeks to change that. I would have liked to have seen more analysis of the correlations between gospel and rock and roll. Overall the film could have used more structure and a more defined purpose.

With that said, this documentary is a time capsule gem that gives viewers insight into the importance of these black artists and what they brought to the world of music. It boasts plenty of footage of those spirited performances by gospel quartets it’s clear to see how secular musicians, like James Brown and Elvis Presley, fed off that energy and imbued their own performances with it. In addition to a historical timeline of how gospel quartets were born out of spiritual, minstrel and jubilee singers, there are also several interviews with gospel quartet singers who are now no longer with us. A must-see for anyone interested in music history.

How They Got Over hits theaters both live and virtual today. Visit the First Run Features website for more details.

Wheels

“We work during the day. We dream at night.”

Max (Arnstar) is a Brooklyn DJ who dreams of making it big. But for now, he’s working at the local grocery store and relegated to playing music at kids’ birthday parties.  When he’s not working, Max is taking care of his grandma (Dorothi Fox) and trying to keep out of trouble. The latter is difficult to do when his brother Terry (Joshua Boone), fresh out of prison, gets caught up with a local gang. Max meets Liza (Shyrley Rodriguez), a dance teacher, and the two are drawn to each other. They both have the talent and the drive to make things happen but something is holding Max back.

Directed by Paul Starkman, Wheels is a sensitive portrayal of an artist’s struggle to survive and thrive despite his circumstances. The film has a decidedly classic sensibility with its black and white cinematography and ’70s TV style intro. It has a great sense of place with many beautiful shots of Brooklyn’s urban landscape. The music in the film is infectious and hooks you in. Arnstar and Rodriguez have playful chemistry on screen and Boone and Arnstar play well off each other as brothers who don’t see eye-to-eye but care for each other deeply. DJ Max is sincere and earnest and Arnstar brings an authenticity to the character that makes these elements shine through.

Wheels is available on iTunes, Vudu, Tubi, Amazon Prime and other streaming/rental services. Find out more information about the film on the official website.

What We Started

Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 8/10

Pushing up the tempo.

Writing and directing duo Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi came up with a solid (re)telling of Electronic Dance Music’s past, present and future in their feature documentary What We Started (2017). Household names such as Tiësto, Paul Oakenfold, Steve Angello and David Guetta -among several other DJs, producers and promoters- share their thoughts and first hand testimonies of 30+ years of EDM.

But just like any story that makes its way into the screen, What We Started develops its narrative focusing on two pivotal and opposing characters: Veteran DJ and producer legend Carl Cox, and the upcoming dutch sensation Martin Garrix. Fifty-five year old Cox is about to wrap his 15 year tenure as the main DJ in Ibiza’s hottest club called Space, while eighteen year old Garrix tries to pull it together as he prepares to open Ultra Festival in Miami, being the youngest DJ to do so ever in the history of the festival.

The smart thing about What We Started, is the way it blends Cox and Garrix career paths with a detailed reconstruction of EDM’s close-to-official History: from New York’s disco days to the house scene in Chicago, Detroit’s techno and Manchester’s acid house scene, revisiting all the fundamental stops from dark crowded basements to neon crowded arenas. 

The narration tries to make its most honest effort not to avoid sensitive issues inherently attached to the nightclubbing culture – mainly drugs and alcohol- and the way illegal activities seem to latch on this scenario.

Documentary-wise, the producers take an enormous advantage out of the fact that EDM is still a “young” musical and cultural phenomenon, meaning they can get their hands on lots and lots of footage -mostly from the digital era- to help paint the most accurate picture of this movement thru the decades, from close to illegality to standard industry professionalism. The exact same way it happens with pretty much every music genre.

Contrary to other genres, like Rock-n-Roll or Pop for example, there seems to be no room in EDM’s environment for egocentric feuds or vanity beefs. What We Started tries to portrait this singularity as utopic as possible. It is only accurate to say that it succeeds most of the time, except when small arguments arise, dividing old school-vinyl-scratching DJs and young-USB-button-pushing upcomers. That’s pretty much as far as rivalry goes in this domains.

There is a lot of detail and effort put into pointing out the craftmanship of the DJ as a creative artist and not just a mere extension of its turntable, a character that started out in the darkest corner of the shadiest clubs and now has a prominent place on the main stages of the world. While the electronic movement continues to develop decade after decade, the documentary stresses the importance of considering the figure of the DJ as the equivalent of a lead singer or lead guitar player from the Pop/Rock Music universe.

But without a doubt the biggest achievement of What We Started ends up being its ability to tell a thorough and solid chronicle of EDM’s journey that entices both the fan and the non-initiated, coming from out of the mouths -and tracks- of the top players of a genre that keeps on writing its own history.

Foto Ale TN_2018

Ale TurdóBased in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine

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