Bitchin: The Sound and Fury Of Rick James’ on Showtime, A Vivid Portrait Of A Troubled Legacy

After premiering on the Tribeca Movie Pageant, Bitchin’ The Sound and Fury of Rick James makes it option to Showtime, and brings with it a truckload of funk energy, parsing of legacy, and the ravages of habit in telling its story of the late musician, songwriter, and producer well-known as a lot for set piece moments just like the 1981 single “Tremendous Freak” and his reliably outlandish persona as as his sordid historical past of drug use and violence. It’s such a freaky scene.  

The Gist: A born showman and pure musician who hustled his approach out of Buffalo, New York, connected with the people and rock actions of the late Sixties and recorded at Hitsville USA earlier than discovering multi-Platinum fame on the West Coast with a string of 1970’s and early ‘80s albums that blended the pose and strut of rock and roll with electrifying funk grooves, Rick James was a vibe made human, and a person as hungry for adulation and success as he was for the darker needs of sexual and pharmacological extra. In exploring the twin legacies of James’s profession and private life, Bitchin’ director Sacha Jenkins attracts on interviews with the musician’s daughter Ty and her mom Syville Morgan, his ex-wife Tanya Hijazi members of his Stone Metropolis Band who knew him earlier than the celebrity in Buffalo and crested with him on the wave of success, music world luminaries like Ice Dice and Bootsy Collins, as nicely such famous students as USC professor and cultural commentator Todd Boyd, critic Jason King, and creator David Ritz. Along with a ton of classic efficiency and interview footage, the complexion of James as a considerably unheralded twentieth century musical innovator who additionally fought with the demons of drug use, melancholy and sexual perversion involves gentle.

His Buffalo roots determine closely into the James narrative, as does his eager ear for musicianship, as a performer but additionally very a lot in order a songwriter and producer. A Motown producer isolates tracks on a mixing board and calls James the grasp of handclaps earlier than counting out a minimum of three intros to a monitor; as a author and bandleader, he was hungry for all of it, and crafted hits for Teena Marie and Mary Jane Women. However he was hungry for lots extra, too, and descriptions of his insatiable sexual urge for food and penchant for disturbing habits and misogyny aren’t glossed over by any of the interviewees right here, household or in any other case. Because the Nineteen Eighties wore on and his star started to fade, James’s cocaine behavior escalated to unexpected ranges of abuse, culminating in expenses of assault and torture that led to a three-year stint in jail. And upon launch, James struggled mightily with sobriety whereas additionally embracing a brand new mark of fame as each an icon of an period and a punchline. “I’m Rick James, bitch!” went the Chappelle’s Present catchphrase echoed on this doc’s title, and never quickly after James was lifeless on the age of 56.

Rick James Portrait Session
Picture: Getty Pictures

What Films Will It Remind You Of? Bitchin’ director Sacha Jenkins has a historical past with Showtime. He helmed the Emmy-nominated sequence Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men for the community, and can staff with Nas to carry Hip Hop 50 to Showtime, celebrating the legacy of the style from its roots in 1973 onward. And when you haven’t caught Chappelle’s Show lately, the pioneering early-2000s sketch comedy present (now streaming on Netflix and HBO Max) is value a revisit, significantly in gentle of the now notorious — and truthfully nonetheless hilarious — “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Tales” sketch that grew to become the crux of James’s late-life visibility.

Efficiency Price Watching: Of the wealth of archival footage right here, James’s appearances on Soul Train between 1978 and 1981 supply instant, visceral perception into not solely the person and his onstage persona, however how music of the period was offered and consumed. From James wielding a keytar that resembles a seventies Dr. Who Dalek remodeled right into a musical instrument, to spangled spandex for days and the baritone honey of Don Cornelius on introductions obligation, the Soul Prepare sequences are lasting relics of the age.

Memorable Dialogue: Requested by the interviewer whether or not it’s true that she met Rick James at an orgy, Syville Morgan, mom of two of his kids, laughs it off. Form of. “It was a celebration, it was an orgy. You recognize, it was civilized. It wasn’t simply loopy.”

Intercourse and Pores and skin: Phrases like “debauchery” and “disturbing” connect themselves to descriptions of Rick James’s prolific intercourse life, and his daughter casually describes how she used to must step over bare ladies within the mornings after wild events at his home. Animated sequences depict a few of this.

Our Take: The Sound and Fury of Rick James actually helps his “pied piper of punk funk” moniker. All through, James is all outsized efficiency, partaking his physicality and trademark braided hairdo in a continuous assault on proudly owning the room, irrespective of the dimensions and never even simply those with a stage. This man was feeling himself a hundred percent of the time, and when he wasn’t feeling himself there have been loads of different individuals round to grope. James’s household celebrates him as man, however a flawed one, too — it’s to Sound and Fury‘s credit score that it doesn’t veer into hagiography. It’s the identical with the musicians and different business of us interviewed. Ice Dice posits that James’s 1981 album Avenue Songs, and particularly its music “Mr. Policeman,” engaged in a type of proto-hip-hop. (A montage of police brutality in direction of African-Individuals features a fast shot of George Floyd’s homicide.) And Nile Rodgers acknowledges James’s unparalleled repute as a musician. However he additionally admits that drug abuse was one thing James simply couldn’t outrun, and business vets who knew him level to it because the fault that finally tarnished the Rick James star. Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James is vivid in its storytelling and revealing in its interviews, but it surely’s refreshing that it finds a method of elevating his musical legacy with out ever letting its topic off the hook for his extra problematic legacy of indiscretions.

Our Name: STREAM IT. Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James exhibits us how he introduced the rhythms of rock and roll and visible sense of David Bowie and Kiss to the boundless, thrilling, and sexified prospects of funk music, making punk-funk his calling card at the same time as he indulged in each extra imaginiable. Don’t you play no video games.

Watch The Sound and Fury of Rick James on Showtime | Stream It or Skip It?


DevanCole is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. DevanCole joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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