Betty: They Say I’m Different feels like a half finished promise. It starts with gusto, it rollicks and rolls in a way that has you intrigued as to where it’ll go, and then it just… ends. In this way, it almost feels like a representation of the life and career of Betty Davis – a funk goddess who fuelled music with her stunning voice, leaving those who witnessed her stunned, and leaving those who loved her even more stunned when she disappeared out of their lives for almost thirty years.
Betty Davis is an icon who has left an impact on music that has resonated through decades. Coming across like a bright star that shines extremely bright, but only for a brief moment, Davis’ journey is one filled with power, pride, and a yearning to break through a racist, misogynistic world. Director Phil Cox tries to bundle the energy of Davis into a 50-ish minute film, but it’s hard not to get the impression he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
There’s a distinct feeling that this could have gone the way of ‘Searching for Richard Simmond’, with the director calling up old friends of Betty out of the blue and expecting them to open up their lives right away, but thankfully the involvement of Davis to tell her own story takes any feeling that this was someone trying to tell her story for her. It’s disappointing then that even with Davis’ involvement, we still only feel like we’re getting three quarters of the tale.
The dive into the difficulty of the era for black women wanting to break into music – or rather, needing to break into music so they could sing their own stories – feels very surface level. A brief look into the history of black women singing blues music gives a rub that the filmmakers were restricted by what music they could get the rights to.
On the other hand, Davis’ relationship with husband Miles Davis – who she proudly kept his name after they separated – is given as much coverage as seemingly possible. There feels like a whole film full of stories within this part of both Betty and Miles lives, one that is given an almost cursory glance at here.
Betty: They Say I’m Different is fine. If you have an interest in funk music, or music history in general, it’ll scratch that itch ok. But it feels like a non-committed scratch, one that comes from a partner who is just doing it out of service, rather than caring.
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