December 11, 1990
What, If anything, can we regard as being ”true” about a documentary? A number of things, maybe. One thing for sure: the documentarian reconstructs the subject in his/her image.
Impossible to imagine attempting authorial distance ( control) over the aura that is Little Richard. Which William Klein does not. Which is why The Little Richard Story ( 1980) is a great, great film. Klein is dumb, nearly stupid, in the face (startling), body (possessed), voice (singular) of Richard, the self-proclaimed ”Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” who changed everything. The first musical icon to exclaim/proclaim the persona of ”bad nigger” (greasy skin, greasy hair, loud), Richard was a sexual menace too (faggot in eyeliner; big faggot in stretch pants). In fact, what Klein shows in his nearly perfect, essayistic form is just how nightmarish his image might seem to you, the prototypical American. Whose black nightmare is Richard? Yours? And do you like it?
Klein opens these questions up, making them more than reflective, by visiting Macon, Georgia (Richard’s hometown), where one hears the voices of women — of which Richard’s is a loving tribute. Working in a world they did not make, these women make it over by wailing, really mourning, the conditions — racism, sexism, class discrimination. Listening to them, we realize Richard had nothing to lose by crying so loudly too. Who would listen?
All those people and voices and language peculiar enough to be called ”different.” But by whom? Whose history is it, anyway? Klein says: not mine; it’s too complicated to be mine; but the colors and sounds are beautiful.
“The Little Richard Story”
Written and directed by William Klein
December 7 through 10
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 9, 2020