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.
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.
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.
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.
Vivian Liberto Cash, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters, passed away on May 24th, 2005. This was a few months before Walk the Line (2005), the critically-acclaimed and award-winning Cash biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Ginnifer Goodwin, was released. Vivian didn’t live to see the film nor did she want to. The script circulated and the way it portrayed Vivian was far from the truth. It created a myth about Vivian as a vindictive woman who tried to get in the way of Cash’s music career.
In reality, Vivian Liberto was a complex woman. A strong-minded woman who was fiercely private and devoted to her husband and her children. The daughter of Italian-American Catholics in San Antonio, Texas, Vivian first met Johnny Cash in 1951 when she was a teenager and he was an Air Force cadet. They had an instant connection and exchanged love letters when Cash served abroad. When he returned in 1954, they married. Cash’s career took off. They moved to California and into Johnny Carson’s old home. They had four children together: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. Vivian had a difficult time with Cash’s fame. It was intrusive and put Vivian on guard. Cash spent more and more time away from the family, started using drugs and started a relationship with singer June Carter that would eventually lead to Vivian and Johnny’s divorce. Vivian wasn’t the perfect mother but she did what she could to raise her four children. She re-married and wrote a book about her life. But her desire for privacy meant the world didn’t really know or understand Vivian. By the time her book published, it was too little too late. A new myth would eclipse the truth.
Filmmaker Matt Riddlehoover’s new documentary My Darling Vivian sets the record straight about the woman behind the legend. The film features extensive home footage and photos. Only Vivian’s four daughters Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara are interviewed. There are no other talking heads, no other family members, friends, pop culture experts, historians etc. This documentary keeps it in the family. It’s easy to watch this film and immediately get defensive of Vivian. You might reconsider your feelings on Walk the Line and how it portrayed her. Of course there is some bias but I was impressed how frank and open the four daughters were about their mother. They discussed both the good and the bad about their parents. My Darling Vivian is a well-rounded and fairly intimate film about a misunderstood woman.
My Darling Vivian was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website for more information.