Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Suzi Q

Liam Firmager’s Aussie-produced documentary studies the life and times of trail-blazing ‘firecracker’ Suzi Quatro, and while it’s conventionally structured there’s still plenty here to get you rocking and/or rolling.

Firmager (credited as director, co-producer, co-editor and co-cinematographer) is obviously a fan, and it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a doco chronicling Quatro’s career before, although that might have something to do with the fact that she only had one rather uncharacteristic hit in America (the goofy ballad Stumblin’ In with Smokie’s Chris Norman).

And yet that hardly matters because she’s still, at 69, hugely popular in Australia, England and many other countries. Oh, and she’s sold 55 million records. Beat that!

Suzi today is candidly interviewed and she’s warm and funny but, unusually for this sort of retro thing, she’s also rather cutting about her pre-fame life, and although her three sisters appear and speak for themselves, there’s obviously been some bad blood in that Detroit family. This is surely because (as devotees might not know) Suzi performed with sisters Patti and Arlene in the ‘60s girl band The Pleasure Seekers (later Cradle), and when they never had a breakout hit, Suzi escaped to England, causing rifts that took years to heal.

There’s more melancholy when we see images of the very youthful Suzi struggling to make it in London before she was helped by record producer Mickie Most and others, and suddenly her second single, 1973’s thumping but lyrically inexplicable Can The Can, was a huge success. And that might have had something to do with her power bass chords, or her trademark leather catsuits or, perhaps, that signature scream.

As we get into the heady years of her peak fame and hear excerpts from such stompers as Devil Gate Drive, 48 Crash and Daytona Demon, more and more admiring interview subjects appear to enthuse about what a liberating figure she was for so many. They’re all here: Runaways headliner Cherie Currie; the legendary Deborah Harry and elder statesman Alice Cooper; L7’s Donita Sparks; Transvision Vamp’s Wendy James; former Talking Heads types Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth (who was inspired by Suzi to pick up the bass); and Happy Days star Henry Winkler and beloved creator Garry Marshall, filmed sometime before his death in 2016. Joan Jett (of the Runaways and a major solo career) turns up too, but she’s also somewhat criticised for stealing much of Suzi’s act, so you do have wonder how she felt when she saw the finished film.

There’s a suggestion that Suzi’s popular role (seven episodes worth) as Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days was cut short by her because she saw it as hurting her popularity but, by this time, she was entering the darkness of her 30s and really wanted to get married, slow down a bit and start a family. And some saw this as a surprise given her wild reputation, but the older, wiser Suzi says that she was simply human.

Filmmaker Firmager supplies much detail about what Suzi was up against in the sexist music industry as well, and how shocked so many men (and certain women) were when she got up and let loose. One especially amazing clip has Suzi on English TV host Russell Harty’s show and, after performing, having her bottom spanked by him, something that would melt the internet today and lead to a veritable international incident.

And, in the midst of all this, there’s 2019-or-so Suzi Q, who grows so reflective towards the end that she sheds a few tears, which seems so un-rock-and-roll compared to the younger, full-throttle version. But don’t underestimate senior Suzi, because she still brings the house down at concerts around the world, and while time might have taken the edge off that trademark scream, it can still shake your very soul.

Suzi Q (M) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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