Tribeca 2021: Bitchin’-The Sound and Fury of Rick James (***½)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19, 2021)

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They broke the mold when James Ambrose Johnson Jr. (aka Rick James) came into the world. In his documentary (headed for Showtime later this year), Sacha Jenkins wisely debunks the caricature popularized by Dave Chappelle (“I’m Rick JAMES, bitch!”) right off the bat, clearing the way for an honest, down-and-dirty portrait of the gifted (if maddeningly self-destructive) singer-songwriter-musician-producer (he died in 2004).

Viewers only familiar with his personae from the late 70s onward that yielded hits like “You & I”, “Mary Jane”, “Bustin’ Out”, and “Super-Freak” may be surprised to learn about his formative mid-60s Canadian period, when he hung with the likes of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and explored folk, psychedelia and hard rock (all of which he later incorporated into his unique brand of “punk-funk”). Slickly produced, fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing.

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