‘Quincy’ documents the making of a legend

Quincy is a retrospective on the life and career of iconic composer, producer, and musician Quincy Jones. The film was co-directed and co-written by Rashida Jones (who in addition to being a filmmaker and actress is Jones’s daughter) and Alan Hicks. (RM: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributing Editor Rachel Mosely

As Quincy opens, we travel down the hallways of Quincy Jones’s offices—hallways filled with images of the musical titans he’s helped to shape—on the way to an interview. One of the interviewers is Dr. Dre, who states that Jones was the reason he became a producer. (If you didn’t understand Jones’s status before the film started, well, you do now.) A high-octane montage shows the 82-year-old Jones ably working the crowd onstage, backstage, and at the afterparties of a variety of star-studded events. After the hullabaloo subsides, he discusses his health (which he tends to downplay), with his daughter Rashida. He promises her that he’ll take care of himself, but suffers a stroke and ends up in the hospital in early 2015. Over the entire film hangs a sense of urgency to get Jones’s story on record as his mortality looms.

 

Once Jones is in stable condition, the film heads backwards and charts out beginning of his life through his own narration. Born on Chicago’s South Side in 1933, he had a hard-knocks upbringing. (When he mentions that his grandmother was a former slave, you can’t help but be struck by the trajectory of his accomplishments). His mother was removed from the family home when he was a young child and institutionalized for mental illness, in an episode that had a profound impact on his life. From Chicago, he moved to Seattle, was recruited by legendary bandleader Lionel Hampton before finishing high school, traveled the world as a musician, settled in New York City, moved to Paris to study orchestral music, returned to New York and took a position at Mercury Records (where he achieved the highest ranking of any black person to date at a major record label), and finally, settled in Los Angeles to pursue his dream of scoring films. On the way, he’d developed lasting relationships with some of the most prominent names in American music (Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, and Frank Sinatra, to name only a few).

 

In L.A., Jones (who had been married twice and had three young children), met Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton, had another child, and suffered a brain aneurysm in 1974 that almost took his life (at one point, doctors gave him a one percent chance of survival). The film gently broaches the territory of Jones’s vices—affairs, womanizing, heavy drinking—and posits that the brush with death pushed Jones to become the “family first” man he still is today (though his marriage to Lipton ended in 1990). His work through the rest of the 70s and 80s continued to cement his status as an icon and icon-maker. At one point, while filming “Thriller,” you hear Jones tell a young Michael Jackson that he believes they’re making what will become the Citizen Kane of music videos (it did).

 

At this point, the film transitions from a study of Jones’s ascent to one of his legacy. We see his influence in film, in hip hop, in philanthropy, in the careers of young musicians he mentors, in political circles. Peppered throughout the action are moments where Jones chats casually with, calls up, or is openly revered by a who’s who of marquee names, from Oprah Winfrey to Colin Powell to Kendrick Lamar. In one memorable scene, he’s wheeled through the music department of the not-yet-finished National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian (which might as well be his personal hall of fame for the role he’s played in so many of the accomplishments on exhibit). He sees a section showing his own name alongside those of Prince, Michael Jackson, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles. “All of them gone,” he remarks, shaking his head.

 

Quincy provides a comprehensive and necessary biography of Jones—you cannot walk away from this film without an understanding of and respect for the influence he’s had on the musical landscape of the 20th century. The film also has an intimate sensibility that’s supported by directorial choices: the use of voiceover interviews rather than on-camera commentary in many cases; the lovingly shot family scenes; and naturally, the abundance of spectacular music available for the soundtrack. Quincy falls somewhere between documentary, memoir, and home movie. In some respects, that’s a winning combination, but it runs the risk of beatifying its subject, particularly when it veers more heavily into home movie territory (as it did at times in this case). Based on moments of self-reflection we see in the documentary, I suspect Jones himself might view some aspects of his life and choices with a more critical eye than the film did.

 

Overall, however, I found Quincy to be a winning and crucial portrait of a musical giant. A framing device for the documentary is the preparation for the 2016 TV special Jones produced to celebrate the opening of the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History. It’s a fitting framework since, as the film shows, Quincy Jones is African American history. I’m willing to forgive a bit of absolution—particularly in the case of the first film of this scope made about an icon of this magnitude. Though if the biopic wasn’t in the works before Quincy’s release, it sure will be now.

 

 

© Rachel Mosely (09/24/18) FF2 Media

 

Photo Credits: Netflix

 

Does Quincy pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No. Since the singular subject of the film is the life and career of Quincy Jones, virtually all conversations or commentary in the film focus on him.

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