Review by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions
In the words of AC/DC, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n roll,” and it’s even longer if you’re a woman. Suzi Q is the story of Suzi Quatro, one of the first female rock stars to play an instrument and front a band. The film chronicles the life of Suzi Quatro from her early days growing up in Detroit, Michigan playing in bands with her sisters, to becoming a rock legend.
It’s the story of a different era of music, a time before YouTube, Spotify, and Instagram. Told chronologically, the film captures the early life of the Quatro family, the feeling of the Motor City in the 60s and 70s, and the struggles of Suzi’s first band, The Pleasure Seekers. It’s a coming of age story of a young girl watching Elvis and the Beatles on TV who becomes a leather-clad rock goddess topping the charts in the UK and Europe. It’s also the story of a legacy and the legions of young girls who would be inspired by Suzi to pick up an instrument and rock.
The line up of interviews for this film is a who’s who of rock n roll including: Joan Jett, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, and Cherrie Currie who wrote the movie’s end credits song, as well as Qutro’s sisters, former bandmates, songwriting partners, and producers. Throughout the film, director Liam Firmager uses creative visuals to illustrate the interviews along with some amazing archival photos, home movies, concert, and television footage.
Being the first of a kind isn’t easy, there’s a struggle to be heard and hang in the male dominated world of rock n roll, but unlike most rockumentaries, there isn’t a “drug period” in this film. Suzi Quatro never got into hard drugs nor did she become an addict, or go into rehab which makes the story surprising and refreshing but not less juicy. Suzi came from a family of musicians who bore some resentment toward her, and even as adults, one can see it in their interview segments. One sister even remarked “I’ll never be a Suzi Quatro fan.” Suzi talks frankly about having to leave the nest in order to pursue her dream as a musician the stress placed on her as a young woman and the trappings of fame.
The twist in the story comes with Quatro reinventing herself and having to face the expectations of her industry and her fans. Never wanting to be pigeonholed as just a rocker, she branched out into acting as a guest star in television’s Happy Days as well as playing the lead in musicals like Annie Get Your Gun. She also co-wrote and starred in Tallulah Who?, a musical about the life of Tallulah Bankhead.
In addition to having some amazing access to Suzi’s friends, family, and peers in the music industry, Firmager gets his subjects to speak frankly on camera. It’s an incredibly honest documentary where famous people talk without pretense. We feel as though we’re right there with them not as fans, but as old friends.
We hear from the artists she’s inspired like Joan Jett who’s early look was based on Quatro, so much so they were often confused with one another. Before Suzi Quatro, there really wasn’t another like her. A few women singers had played instruments and fronted a band, but none were so audacious and unapologetic, and certainly none rocked harder. Without Suzi there would be no Runaways, no Go-Gos, and no Lita Ford. This film is proof that representation matters. It’s a powerful thing to see someone who looks like you doing something you didn’t think you were allowed to do.
An innovator, a trail-blazer, an inspiration, and “The Girl from Detroit City,” that’s Suzi Quatro. For those unfamiliar with her, this doc is an excellent introduction to her life and work. If you love rock-u-mentaries, or you’re looking for some inspiration, or you want to know more about a rock legend you already love, I highly recommend Suzi Q.
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