The worshipful documentary ‘SUZI Q’ fleshes out the life of bass-playing ’70s phenom Suzi Quatro
Success came early for Susan Kay Quatro, the Detroit rock girl who would become an influential early-punk hitmaker overseas. By the age of 14, Suzi Quatro had regular gigs in her hometown with The Pleasure Seekers as a singer and bass player. In 1971, she was recording in England on her way to a career selling 55 million records, charting frequently in Australia, England, and other countries (but not often in the U.S.), and appearing memorably as Leather Tuscadero for three seasons of TV’s Happy Days.
SUZI Q ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Liam Firmager
Running time: 153 min
The new documentary SUZI Q, debuting July 1 in an online pre-rental offer than includes a Q&A with Quatro and special guests via Altavod, details those early years of Quatro’s rise lovingly, making the convincing argument that Quatro was the prototypical guitar-slinging rock girl before that was even a thing. The evidence to back that up is a collection of still-blistering performance footage where Quatro’s energy and talent are burn-your-face-off undeniable.
Talking-head interviews with Alice Cooper, Deborah Harry, Go-Gos guitarist Kathy Valentine, two members of the actual Talking Heads and many others attest to Quatro’s chops and how early she was on a scene that would later evolve from garage rock to disco to punk to alternative rock.
What’s most notable, before the doc takes a few unfortunate turns, is what a presence Quatro was in her early 20s, when her signature look became a form-fitting leather jumpsuit, captured iconically in one memorable photo shoot, a simple just-there hairdo and hardly any makeup. Her attitude with press: crafty, playful, lots of attitude. She was clearly taking notes, as she took over Europe, on how to return the favor when England sent us The Beatles.
Quatro’s strutting on-stage persona, confidence, and explosive energy made the 5-foot-tall performer stand out even among glam-rock artists of the era such as David Bowie. “All that thunder coming out of this little girl,” rocker Lita Ford remembers. Quatro clearly influenced future chart-toppers like Ford’s bandmate Joan Jett, who was so often compared to her that she had to change her hairstyle and clothes during her time with The Runaways.
(Joan Jett side note: Jett is so humble about that time and clearly still so in awe of Quatro in her interview for this doc, that it will make you fall in love with Joan Jett all over again.)
Though she is not remembered as much for her music in America than overseas–the doc itself comes by way of Australia–Suzi Quatro continues to perform at age 70 and when she’s telling stories about songwriting and how scared she was living alone in a new country, it’s spellbinding.
Quatro spent the 80s and 90s writing and performing in stage musicals, appearing in TV shows and movies, and writing novels and poetry.
The poetry leads to an unfortunate filmmaking choice; Quatro writes out cursive stanzas of her rhyming poetry to punctuate turning points in her life, reading them aloud ponderously, an indulgence that hits diminishing returns faster than an Elastica song. SUZI Q director Liam Firmager also drags out the running time fixating on Quatro’s family drama, which amounts to not so much trauma than a lot of rancid squabbling between sisters who’ve never learned to make peace about Quatro’s leaving home to be a huge success without her bandmates. “I’ll never be a fan of Suzi Quatro,” her older sister Nancy Quatro says, “because she’s my sister” and it’s bone chilling how much she means it.
But is it interesting for a rock doc? Not so much. As you’d expect, SUZI Q glosses over all the decades when Quatro wasn’t playing rock music and was instead raising two kids and trying a bunch of other things. It uses footage of slow-motion running as a clunky metaphor for Quatro’s never-stop work ethic, and trots out the cliché of a young rocker trading their youth for rock ‘n’ roll by simply letting Quatro detail how sad and lonely it left her. The armchair psychotherapy isn’t entertaining or particularly insightful.
The energy that fuels the first third of the film never returns in the film’s too-indulgent 153-minutes, and perhaps that’s a better metaphor than anything the doc tries to spell out explicitly. Quatro’s music career burned like a supernova early when her look, her sound, her masterful performances of “Can the Can,” “Devil Gate Drive,” “48 Crash” and “Daytona Demon” all gelled perfectly to made her immortal.
Maybe everything that’s come later isn’t quite as powerful, but there’s no denying quintessential rock goddess Quatro deserves to be remembered as part of rock’s Pantheon.