Little Richard: I Am Everything opens with an interview from the 1970s that tells the uninitiated all they need to know about the musician. Almost defiantly, he lets the interviewer know that if you got it, you need to show it off. The confidence, flamboyance, and of course, the music are all a part of the documentary which is screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The content of the film is not much different than other musical biopics. It traces the story of Little Richard back to his childhood and has some great archival footage. These older videos are particularly good as they show the influence Richard had on artists ranging from The Beatles to Prince. Interviews with Mick Jagger and Niles Rodgers are also included that show how much respect he commanded.
The spirit of Little Richard: I Am Everything is where the documentary truly shines. The flamboyant rocker had an outsized personality that was enhanced by elements he borrowed from the queer subculture. Director Lisa Cotes crafts a film fit for Richard, adding musical interludes and small touches like sparkles and stardust. The supreme confidence with which Richard lived his life can be felt.
There is a running theme of how Richard never received the appreciation he should have. While his fellow musicians knew Richard’s importance, critics and audiences would pay lip service and little else. This includes how the music industry exploited him out of his royalties (a too common tale among Black artists) while having white musicians sing his biggest hits.
Little Richard: I Am Everything also paints a portrait of a complicated man. He was teased for being a gay man early in life and befriended many queer people over the years. In interviews, he talked of being an openly gay man. He has influenced many in the LBGTQ community. Later in life, he took to the Bible and spoke strongly against homosexuality, however.
Things close with a discussion on the idea of appropriation. In this case, the talk revolves around how some things go beyond being taken from another culture to just being completely erased. For example, how there eventually came a time when a Black rock band seemed out of the ordinary. It is an interesting point that puts into perspective the life and works of “The Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.
The Sundance Film Festival takes place from January 19 -29. Full lineup can be found HERE
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