Nothing can replace live music. During this pause we, along with our movie theater colleagues, have discovered how to shift into the virtual realm. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for the experience of seeing musicians perform live with a crowd of fans. It’s why this week I found a particular joy watching SUZI Q from director Liam Firmager, a documentary that tells the story of Suzi Quatro, the female rock trailblazer from Detroit who broke onto the scene in the early-1970s and altered the way the world would see rock stars.
All it took for me was the first few minutes of footage, watching stagehands set up for an outdoor live show, to give me a nostalgia trip, to remind myself what it’s like waiting around in the warm summer evening air for a band or act to take the stage. Above all, it showed me how much I took these experiences for granted when I had them. This is the power of coming together with others to experience music and movies, or at least movies that are as good as this one.
If you’re like me and are coming to this film unfamiliar with Suzi Quatro, there are a few frustrating reasons for this. Though she did become a huge success, this was mostly seen overseas in Australia and Europe. During her heyday, U.S. radio producers and advertisers were more interested in musicians who lived outrageous lifestyles fueled by drugs and alcohol, most of whom were men. Not only was Suzi Quatro of course female but she also didn’t live the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll lifestyle. This set her apart from the promoted scene in the U.S., and it’s also what sets this documentary apart from your typical rock doc about the 70s.
Where most documentaries of this ilk find focus in the flaws of their subjects, Suzi Q tells a story of success, family, music, career and the heartbreaks and frustrations that are produced by a life in the entertainment industry when one attempts to balance all of this at once.
What’s truly exceptional about Suzi Q is that it lets the music speak for itself. Featured in the film are fellow musicians like Detroit rocker Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and even Henry Winkler, but not in the way you expect. Instead of the stale formula of hearing the subjects recite lyrics and tell you why the music means something to them, Suzi’s stirring, electric voice instead possesses their mouths and we hear it speak for itself.
But aside from the music, the film has much to say about the dialogue she created when she broke onto the scene, where gender is always the forefront of the conversation and thus an obstacle to hurdle before the discussion can move onto the music itself. This is, of course, a persisting obstacle that female artists still deal with in an industry that still internally categorizes women apart from the norm. In fact in the trailer, you’ll even see her butt slapped on television by the host of a show because her femininity (and thus her perceived amiability) was always a spectacle to behold.
Where the documentary draws even greater inspiration is its focus on the path beyond Quatro’s career as a musician. The documentary is almost just as much a film about her career as stage actress and mother as it is about her life as a rock star. Because she took on many roles that allowed her to redefine herself outside of popular music, she never let herself fall into a persona or stereotype. She was both a “Wild One” as she wrote in her music and also Tallulah Brockman Bankhead in Tallulah Who?. Many of you will also recognize her as Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days.
In many ways Quatro’s career similarly reflects Linda Ronstadt, who was the subject of the documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice that played at the Michigan Theater in 2019. My recommendation is to turn an upcoming day or night into a double-feature and watch Suzi Q and then Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, which is now available on HBO Max and Amazon for a small fee. And I also suggest you find the film Joan Jett: Bad Reputation that almost fits as a sequel to Suzi Q.
So if you haven’t already, check out Suzi Q in our Virtual Movie Palace and be sure to take advantage of our Curbside Concessions deal: Buy a large combo and receive $2 off your virtual ticket! Enjoy the remainder of the week and let us know what you think!