Film review ‘SUZI Q’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

A must-see, not only for rock fans but for those fascinated by trailblazers in any field, is the Suzi Quatro documentary Suzi Q. The film, written and directed by Aussie Liam Firmager, adopts an appropriately straightforward, no-nonsense approach as it details Suzi’s early life in Detroit, her initial foray into the rock world at 14 with her sisters in bands like The Pleasure Seekers, her breakaway pursuit of a solo career, her meteoric rise to stardom in the 70’s and her surprisingly diverse career of the last five decades.

At the film’s centre is Suzi’s difficult, often fractious relationship with her family. She’s refreshingly candid about the tension and anger that ensued after she made the remarkably bold decision as a 20-year-old to leave her sisters’ band and head over to England, having being offered a recording deal by British music Svengali Mickey Most. The film conveys the potent mix of youthful hope and crushing difficulty of this time as Suzi tried to write songs in a dingy London flat while thousands of miles from home and knowing that her tight-knit her family were bitter about her leaving. Testament to her phenomenal tenacity and determination (a theme that frequently resurfaces in the film) she persevered and with a band that included husband Len Tuckey and songs from the ubiquitous Mike Chapman, she had a string of hits throughout the 70’s, including Can the Can, 48 Crash, Devil Gate Drive and later her collaboration with Smokey singer Chris Norman on Stumblin’ In. Thankfully, the film gives us a decent helping of these songs and not just snippets as happens in some music doco’s.

Firmager proudly emphasises how warmly Australian rock fans embraced Suzi, which is not surprising as her rugged yet cheeky style fitted perfectly with the AC/DC’s and Rose Tattoos of the time. Strangely, she had limited success in the US, something the doco largely attributes to the Byzantine workings of the music industry which often left US audiences oblivious to glam rock coming out of Britain where Suzi was based.

It’s also suggested that American’s had difficulty coping with such a ballsy female performer, an attitude that seemed to afflict a few doubting male music journalists of the time. Accordingly, one of the film’s most uplifting aspects is the way it recognises Suzi as a pioneer for women in the entertainment business. A multitude of female rock luminaries including Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, Lita Ford, and Donita Sparks from L7 pay tribute to Suzi’s stereotype-smashing influence. The image of tiny leather-clad Suzi Quatro shredding a bass that was bigger than her while commanding a band of hefty blokes who looked like they’d just come from a shearing shed had a profound impact on a generation of female rockers,. The film also features plenty of terrific footage from across the decades capturing her amazing on-stage energy and swagger.

The rock world can be extremely fickle about street cred and a rocker branching into other areas can often be met with derision. This restrictive attitude seems to have been complete anathema to Suzi who ventured into acting with a long-running appearance on Happy Days as well as guest spots on numerous shows including, astonishingly, Midsomer Murders, movie appearances and a theatre career that included Annie Get Your Gun and a musical about the life of actress Tallulah Bankhead.

Suzi Q provides a warm but still critical view of a fascinating personality who continues to thrill audiences to this day.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Rockumentary.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Liam Firmager.

Release date: 21st Nov 2019.

Running time: 96 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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