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Has any person made as indelible an imprint on African American culture as Quincy Jones? This new bio-documentary makes a compelling case for the point, though that’s the only compelling aspect of this paint-by-numbers film.
Directors Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones (one of the seven children Jones fathered across five celebrated loves) require two hours merely to account for his eclectic accomplishments. Now 85, Quincy Jones produced career-high records for greats such as Ray Charles and Michael Jackson, and recorded plenty of his own. In Hollywood, he composed the Oscar-nominated scores for In Cold Blood and The Wiz, and on TV, the immortal themes for Roots and Sanford and Son. He shepherded Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of The Color Purple and Will Smith’s launchpad The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air through production. He founded Vibe magazine, a publication that spearheaded the legitimisation of hip-hop as an art form. Judging from the large number of celebrity cameos, he is friends with everyone who has ever crossed the Grammy awards stage. And he’s done incalculable good through charity work and other civic giving-back, bringing millions in aid to Africa through the We Are the World campaign.
The film dutifully catalogues his successes, from a fraught childhood on the South Side of Chicago to coordinating the 2016 opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) Rashida Jones’s closeness to her father, the mind behind the legendary profile never fully comes into focus. Her unparalleled level of access and intimate relationship to her subject should have cleared the way for an exceptionally frank appraisal of a complicated, flawed personality. Instead, it does the opposite, playing nice in a sanitised portrait that only fleetingly delves deeper than the average encyclopedia article.
Q, his ubiquity inherent in the one-letter nickname, hasn’t quite lived a saintly life. The film doesn’t quite ignore this fact, as much as it tries to hurry past it on the way to further hagiography. Early on, Rashida asks her dad if he thinks his drinking – the word “alcoholism” is never uttered, nor is any other form of recreational substance – has created problems in his life. He simply responds that it hasn’t, having at that point gone a good handful of months without touching the bottle. His chronic philandering rates a single mention.
A general lack of self-examination plagues Quincy Jones’s narration and the one-on-one face time the camera gets from him. He is a thoughtful enough person, reflecting on the constant barbs of racism he and his band had to endure when touring during the 1940s and 50s. But he seldom looks inward, challenges himself, or offers any fresh insight. The best footage sees Jones in repose, preparing to face down the Grim Reaper after a diabetic stroke. “Time is a bitch,” he muses, either to God or nobody in particular. Later, while touring the museum’s exhibition on black excellence in music, he mutters: “All of them, gone. That’s frightening.” It is the closest he gets to the confessional attitude that makes for a good celebrity doc.
How this could come from the voice of this year’s most generously entertaining interview (in Vulture), only the film’s directors can explain. Early on, Rashida Jones warns her father, “I’m not very good with the camera,” and she’s not simply being self-effacing. A bare minimum of visual competency matches their shortcomings as interrogators, continuing the slightness of Hicks’s previous non-fiction effort Keep on Keepin’ On (a chronicle of a jazz veteran’s mentorship of a piano prodigy) and the misjudgment of the Rashida Jones-produced Hot Girls Wanted (an overly alarmist investigation of internet porn’s underbelly). The result of their compromised perspective is unquestioning adulation, as unabashedly celebratory as the Academy Awards ceremonies over which Quincy used to preside as music director.
It’s a victory lap, which will probably be enough for fans content to share Q’s presence and nothing more. But this movie isa cataloguing of a man who lives in three dimensions. In sticking to recitation of well-known historical fact and flattery it has taken the easy way out.
Source: The Guardian
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