Friday, December 9, 2011

'The Weird World of Blowfly' Movie Review

Do you want to watch a 66 year old man dressed like a superhero lay down some of the filthiest rhymes you’ve heard this side of a 2 Live Crew record? If you answered yes to this question, then you’ll probably want to check out Jonathan Furmanski’s new documentary, “The Weird World of Blowfly”. The film follows Clarence Reid, AKA Blowfly, a purple-sequin-suit-wearing MC with a dirty, dirty mouth, and an even dirtier mind. This is an artist with songs titles like “Big Fat Ho” and “Rap Dirty”, albums called “Porno Freak”, and who does a rendition of “Do the Twist” entitled “Suck MY Dick”. Dropping albums since 1971, some people consider Blowfly one of the first rappers ever. That is the point that “Weird World” tries to drive home, with mixed results, and notable personalities like Chuck D, Ice T, and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, will try to convince you. Given the timelines, they very well may be right.

Here’s the twist: Clarence Reid was also an influential figure in Florida’s soul scene in the 1960s and 70s. He recorded many of his own tunes with some moderate success, but where he drew the most acclaim was as a songwriter for the likes of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae, and many others. You can hear samples of his songs in a number of hit songs, including a recent Beyonce joint. Reid started performing naughty, foul-mouthed renditions of hit songs for the amusement of himself and his friends as a lark, and hence, Blowfly was born as a nasty side project.

Like so many subjects in so many documentaries, time has not been so kind to Clarence Reid. In desperate need of money, he sold the rights to all of his songs for, well, a song. All those samples I mentioned earlier, he hasn’t seen cent from any of them, and he never will. This is where “Weird World” picks up the story. Blowfly, his manager, Tom Bowker, and a band that includes Norwood Fisher from Fishbone, embark on a west coast tour where they play sparsely occupied dives to miniscule crowds of people who would likely be bellied up to the bar no matter if there was music or not. The performers give Furmanski and company remarkable access, however, and you get to see all the bumps, bruises, and ugly moments that go along with life on the road.

Reid still clings to the dream, despite the obvious public indifference to his musical aspirations. At times you can’t tell if Bowker is delusional, thinking Blowfly is just on the verge of breaking big, or sketchy, and waiting to cash in on their impending success. On the road the two butt heads and go at it like petulant, selfish children. They fight like only two people who are so close, who have spent that much time together, can. Though you are left to wonder how these two men, these two disparate personalities, came to this connection. Whatever his motivations, Tom comes across the only person legitimately interested in Clarence, personally or professionally.

Convinced Blowfly is on the verge of “being great again”, Bowker embarks on an ill-fated journey to bring the again rapper into the 21st Century. They team up with a dirt bag Miami techno producer. The result is one of the worst songs you’ll ever hear, called “Mummy Fucker”. You guessed it, it’s about fucking mummies. It is truly, truly awful, and you can see the displeasure register on Reid’s face as he rehearses the lyrics with the giggling little German with a silly mustache.

There are some obvious missed opportunities in “Weird World”. Reid’s soul career is largely glossed over, and this portion of his life is dealt with like much like every other documentary about anyone who has been screwed over by the music industry. You could write this section yourself. There is also a little bit with his family—particularly his ex-wife, and estranged son and daughter—but these potential threads are primarily tucked away and not dealt with in any meaningful depth There is, however, a nice bit at the end with Reid’s daughter, a professional basketball player.

Despite some flaws, “The Weird World of Blowfly” is a sad, moving, and funny portrait. Reid may be broke, he may have arthritis so bad in both knees that he can barely walk—he wears a pair of heavy braces on his legs beneath his stage costume—but that’s not going to stop him from talking about his dick to total strangers. As miserable as he can be at times, you get the distinct impression that he is a generally happy person, that he’s pursuing his dream, against all odds and with little to no chance of succeeding, and you want to root for him. And you know what, Blowfly? I think you’re right. I think it is going to be a spermy night in Georgia.

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