"Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James" (2021 release; 112 min.) is a documentary about the life and times of Rick James. As the documentary opens, we see Ty James, Rick's daughter, driving her convertible, with Rick James music blasting away. She is going to a storage facility in Corona, CA where there is TONS of personal stuff and memorabilia about Rick James stored for eternity, her first time there since Rick James passed in 2004. We then go back in time, to the 1950s in Buffalo, NY, where Rick grew up, being 1 of 8 siblings. Buffalo was of course racially segregated, and "racist down to the bone", as noted by Rick James' brother. In the 1960s, Rick James joined the Navy but soon was AWOL and ended up in Toronto... At this point we are less than 15 min into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from writer-director Sasha Jenkins, whose previous work includes 2017's excellent documentary "Burn, Motherf**ker, Burn!". Here he reassesses the legacy of multi-talented and super-ambitious Rick James, who after toiling away for years in the music business without much of any success, finally hits his stride in the late 70s when he turned 30. Let me state upfront: I knew "Super Freak" and that was about it (and the song has been played to death so I don't care if I ever hear it again). But here is the surprise (and payoff): the man had a lot of great music, which I frankly had never heard until I saw this documentary. Rick James' early albums like "Come Get It" and "Bustin' Out of L Seven". If his music needs to be summarized in just two words: "punk funk". The documentary features a lot of talking heads, as can be expected: Bootsy Collins (Funkadelic), Nile Rodgers (Chic), and many more. And there is also lavish attention to Rick James' life style, which is excessive (to put it mildly) and in this day and age would be considered unacceptably sexist if not worse. But setting all that aside: the documentary has given me new insights on the musical legacy that Rick James left behind, and I can't wait to explore his music. Bottom line: if you, like me, knew Rick James only of "Super Freak", you are in for a major surprise in the best possible way.
"Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James" premiered this weekend on Showtime, and is now available on SHO On Demand, Amazon Instant Video, and other streaming services. If you have any interest in R&B, or generally in music history, I'd readily suggest you check this out, and draw your own conclusion.