A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom
Richard Penniman aka Little Richard was many things throughout his life. One of those things is he is undisputably the real King of Rock n Roll with this documentary not just celebrating his work, but also recognizing him for being, as Richard himself says, “The one that started it all.” Directed by Lisa Cortes “Little Richard: I Am Everything” puts much of it’s emphasis on the music first and formost. That galatic talent on the piano and some of the biggest names who followed in Richard’s wake, how others disregarded his talent, and his complicated legacy regarding race and queerness. I must say, while it’s not long in length, this documentary cuts to the nitty gritty of it all, and you learn from it.
The movie is a remarkable journey, that captures the spirit of Richard himself. We see everyone from Billy Porter, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Tom Jones, the latter three all one time members of Richard’s inner circle, and director John Waters whose insight into Richards life impacted his own with the copying of the infamous tiny mustache. The list of who he influenced is longer than that – as there would be no Elvis, David Bowie, who cameos here as well, Prince or even Harry Styles, without the influence of Little Richard. The film traverses the lines between Richard’s life as well as clearly his confusion between who he was, his religion and who he wanted to be, are all put forth to decipher.
Born December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia as Richard Penniman in a family that included twelve children in total and he grew up surrounded by blues music. Macon was also a religious town, and it was in a church where Richard first began singing. But along with that strict religion to conform to, his even stricter father who threw him out of his home at an early age. Richard was then taken in by the owners of a queer-leaning nightclub. An all-too-familiar situation that – as we later find out – likely impacted Richard. Soon though, he performed across the country (sometimes in drag shows) and later formed a band to record a demo tape of songs including ‘Tutti Frutti.’ From there, as his popularity began to soar, going into ‘forbidden’ terrority so to speak, so did the judgement. leading to ridiculous things like that same song being re-recorded by America’s religious darling at the time, one Pat Boone.
Ironically, it was a supposed sign from that very same religion that espoused him that led him to renounce himself more or less. He ended up at a conservative college, became a gospel artist, and even burned some of his old records. Then realizing gospel preaching didn’t pay, he flips the lid once again and gives that up for tours of Britain and a big, colourful comeback in the 1960s. And then, you guessed it, another reform again in the 1970s, turning his back fully on own homosexuality once again. All these back and forth renouncements and constant fluctuation represent Richard’s lifelong struggle to balance his love of Christianity, yet also speak strongly of his other maybe more real true love of rock-n-roll. One might ask why so many turnabouts – yet this answer is never revealed. most likely because Richard himself really never knew the answer himself sadly.
What the film does reveal is how Richard created an art form for ultimate self-expression, yet what he gave to the world he was never able to give to himself. Throughout his life, Richard careened like a shiny cracked falling star somewhere inbetween God, sex and rock n’ roll. The world tried to put him in a box, but Richard was another type of being altogether – and while he never received much of the deserved accolades or money until the end – he was unabashedly everything. All at once.
Follow me on twitter: @pegsatthemovies or Instagram: Peggyatthemovies
Review Screening: Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR
“LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING” FROM CNN FILMS IS OUT IN THEATERS AND VOD FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2023