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Film Review: “Suzi Q” Profiles a Legend of Rock & Roll

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 1st, 2020

Film poster: “Suzi Q”

Suzi Q (Liam Firmager, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.

Rock star, actor and poet (and so much more) Suzi Quatro, born in 1950 into a family of 5 siblings in Detroit, Michigan, became a musical sensation in the early 1970s, paving the way for many other young women to make their mark in the decade that would follow, and beyond. Among those influenced by her were Blondie, The Go-Go’s, L7, The Runaways (especially Joan Jett) and others. She truly led by example, showing the world what a hard-charging female bassist and vocalist could look and sound like. In the new documentary Suzi Q, from director Liam Firmager (King of the Mountain), she gets her cinematic due, still proud and, more importantly, productive as she approaches 70.

Strangely, though she found success in Europe, Australia and Japan, she never quite made it in her native United States, which helps explain, at least partly, why I had not heard of her. In the movie, filled with talking-head interviews from many who knew Quatro and worked with her (including, incidentally, two members of the actual Talking Heads, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth), it is surmised that, for whatever reason, Americans just weren’t yet ready, in the pre-MTV age, for her particular style. Still, she appeared in seven episodes of the TV show Happy Days (as Leather Tuscadero), so there’s that.

Suzi Quatro now ©Screen Australia

Though the documentary slightly overstays its welcome by the end, devolving into overly soggy sentiment that undercuts its own punch by repeating itself one time too many, it is otherwise a solid portrait of what made Quatro tick and why she matters. Some of the interview compositions feel rushed and far less well photographed than others, but the information, particularly that about her fraught family dynamic, proves fascinating. Her three older sisters, it turns out, still bear a bit of a grudge against her for leaving them behind to go solo (they had all performed together in a number of bands). Firmager does a fine job drawing them all out on the subject.

I emerged from my viewing ashamed that I had somehow missed knowing both her story and her music; I’m certainly old enough. Her songs, many written by Mike Chapman (also featured here), include: “Can the Can,” “Devil Gate Drive,” “Stumblin’ In” (sung with Chris Norman, and her biggest hit in the U.S.), “The Wild One” and “Your Mama Won’t Like Me.” They’re catchy, playful and have frenetic drive. What’s not to like? And what’s not to like about Suzi, herself, a true pioneer in her field and an inspiration to later generations? Rock on, then, and may everyone else follow.

Suzi Quatro then ©Screen Australia
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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