July 1, 2020 Suzi Q (Documentary Review)
Before Debbie Harry and Joan Jett, there was Suzi Quatro. Making her debut in 1973, she is one of the first women to make headway in the Rock genre. Singing, songwriting, bass playing and beyond, she has had a career spanning half a century. Ripe time for a retrospective documentary. Which is where Australian Director Liam Firmager (Sticks & Stones 2008, Ricky! The Movie 2010), Producer Tait Brady (The Loved Ones 2009, The 25th Reich 2012) and their film Suzi Q comes in.
Australians, New Zealanders, and Europeans had a head start, as the film had a release in those territories in late 2019 in film festivals and cinemas. But thanks to Utopia, the film will have a release across America on DVD and digital as of July 3, 2020
The documentary covers the life and career of Suzi Q from her humble beginnings in Detroit to modern day. It aims to reaffirm her status as one of the most influential women in Rock. Big enough to have inspired generations of women to enter the music world after her. Some of whom turn up to give their thoughts on the impact of her music. These include Harry and Jett, alongside KT Tunstall, Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), Cherie Currie (The Runaways), Donita Sparks (L7) and more.
The intro certainly does a good job as a quick summary into how and why Quatro broke the mold. In technique it is simple and straightforward- talking heads interspersed with older footage. Though it does frame that footage within a range of frames depending on age- projector for old home movies, CRT television for old TV appearances, etc. Other times it does a split-screen effect, comparing one classic Quatro concert with another. Add that to the vintage, scrapbook-style intro and one gets a film with plenty of visual charm.
It adds to the early going of the film too. Quatro makes for a good interview, but the way the film uses old snaps and stock footage to back her story really brings it to life. Particularly for her pre-Metal days in the Pleasure Seekers, a mid-60s, all-girl teen Rock act. It is rather like finding Ronnie James Dio’s old Doo-Wop band, or spotting Jimi Hendrix in Little Richard’s backing band. In that a star’s image is so ingrained it can be hard to remember that they did not immediately start that way. So, seeing that progression from Pleasure Seeker to solo artist is quite fascinating.
Not to mention it makes that shift into metal look more impactful. Granted, ’70s Rock feels a bit light compared to later years. However, the way the film builds up to ‘Can the Can’s release does give the viewer a taste of why Suzi Quatro stood out. This is where most of the talking heads come in too, saying what it was about her that got them hooked onto Rock before becoming stars themselves. Whether it was the growly vocals and bass playing, or the contrast of her otherwise cutesy features with leather jumpsuits, jackets, etc. Titillation may have been a factor, but this also showed that one did not need to be overtly masculine, if not a man exclusively, to get on in Rock.
The film shows this contrast well, alongside her contrasting success. Songs that hit #1 or the Top Ten in Australia, Britain, Germany, etc would land just outside the Top 50 or 100 in the US. The interviewees do discuss this, suggesting either was too ahead of her time (according to Harry), or her sound was a little too UK Glam Rock (according to producer Mike Chapman). There is evidence for both sides, as Suzi Q would briefly catch on with a lighter, MOR sound, while Suzi Q-devotee Jett went heavy and hit paydirt in the MTV era. Ultimately, whatever the reason, she became a legend abroad, yet a cult favorite with rockers and Happy Days fans at home.
The most interesting part of the film would be in the third, post-fame act. Quatro went in a different direction from others who went deeper into sex, drugs, and Rock-n-Roll lifestyle. Metal was her music, but it did not define her. So, the film finds time to cover her other interests, even peppering her poetry throughout the picture, alongside the strain it caused. Yet the way it defies expectation makes it even more curious. Playing the lead role in a pantomime play at Brighton Pier is not exactly Rock, but it is healthier than amphetamines. So, swings and roundabouts as they say.
Does that make Suzi Q a good film? It is directed well, has lots of visual charm, and the music is top-notch Classic Rock. Plus, Quatro’s life has enough odd twists and turns to fill a feature-length flick. Still, it is ultimately the tale of a rocker keeping a straight head and softening over time. Hardcore Rock fans might not be into a musician who went for theater and TV dramas over the Metal lifestyle alone. Yet one can appreciate someone avoiding the burnout from the latter. Either way, it does make it the cosiest rockumentary about. Still interesting. Just do not expect any TVs chucked through hotel windows. Thus, Cryptic Rock gives Suzi Q 4 out of 5 stars.