Quincy movie review: Netflix's biopic-documentary fails to make us intimate with a ridiculously talented man
While Quincy can be illuminating to audiences not entirely familiar with a legendary record producer’s innumerable facets, it doesn’t present anything truly engaging for a music lover
What do we really want to know about our idols? If we ran into them in a restaurant during a vacation on a scantly inhabited island, and mustered the courage to sit across a table with them, what would we try to glean from the conversation we strike up? What if we met a tabloid journalist with unparalleled access to them? What questions would we ask about them?
All these questions and more come to mind while watching Quincy, a documentary on the life and legacy of Quincy Jones, one of the most celebrated music producers of the 20th century. The uninitiated will do better than recognising him as the man who produced Thriller, the iconic Michael Jackson record that launched him into superstardom. The barrage of questions can also be attributed to the frustratingly flat nature of the documentary which, in skipping and jumping through the subject’s accomplished musical career, chooses to sacrifice artistic creativity in the service of plain, old historiography. With Rashida, Quincy’s daughter, on board as co-director, one could always have expected it to go either way, owing to the complicity that intimacy tends to elicit. So while Quincy can be illuminating to audiences not entirely familiar with the legendary record producer’s innumerable facets, it doesn’t present anything truly engaging for a music lover.
Throughout, the documentary assumes a reverential perspective towards Jones. Not that he doesn’t deserve the respect he gets from the who’s who of music and entertainment. But watching him used as a prop in an endless parade of meet-and-greet with the stars of the industry soon loses its glitz. Far too much time is spent on these trifles. Jones was a musician, first and foremost. And while his progress as a musician, and the many hats he wore as an artist skipping across categories and genres — terms he goes out of his way to denounce — gets the by-the-numbers treatment, it fails to provide insight into the source of his creativity and his admirable work ethic.
The Quincy that comes through to us is a man whose only real weakness was for women, considering his multiple marriages. Apart from that, he was the very aspect of hard work, creativity, philanthropy and success. But these are things we already know. If the purpose of this documentary was to solidify his legacy, it is worth remembering that some individuals defy the need for such trifles. The man’s music and his efforts for peace and fraternity are far too pronounced and out there to require a bio-doc. Now that that’s out of the way, what do we want to know about him?
Well, certainly his years growing up, which form the most poignant parts of the film. His journey as a black man with endless ambition and love for music amidst the racism that held America in its clasp during the middle of the century is well represented. Watch out for the part where he remembers first discovering a piano. Or when he walks into his childhood home after almost half a century. The middling camera angles during this last sequence aside, it is a truly moving moment. It rightly draws us closer to the man. Or the way culture, history and music intersected as he moved from genre to genre, often ending up as the catalyst for change. From Sinatra refusing to play in Vegas unless the black people in his crew were given similar accommodation or Jones himself bringing an eclectic cast of entertainers together to inaugurate the first museum devoted to African American history. Sadly, even though these passages manage to place him at the epicentre of cultural and historical events, the film fails to make us intimate with a ridiculously talented man.
There are occasional glimpses of his musical motivations. For instance, the time when a European teacher told him music is all about 12 notes and what you do with them. When Jones uses this quote at the end of the film while instructing a protege, we suddenly become cognisant of the span of history that we have just witnessed. But these moments are few and far between and never manage to sew together a convincing narrative.
Quincy fails to penetrate the image of the man to tell us who he was. Maybe it leaves it to us to know more about the man through his copious musical output or his efforts for peace. He’s achieved more than most people ever would. The documentary works best as a chronicle of all that he did and where he came from. It is best enjoyed as nothing more than that.
Quincy is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:
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