Aussie director Liam Firmager may seem like an odd choice to bring a documentary about the iconic singer-songwriter Suzi Quatro, but as we find out over the films runtime, it may not be that odd given how successful Quatro was in Australia. With songs like ‘Can the Can’, ‘Devil Gate Drive’, and ’48 Crash’ all being major hits in Australia, the combination of Firmager and Quatro’s life seems like an easy fit. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much what Suzi Q boils down to being – a nice, easy fit of a run through of the life of an icon.
One of the struggles with writing a review for a documentary like this is that you run the risk of simply retelling the facts of the film rather than actually discussing why the film works or doesn’t work. Part of the reason for that is that this is a fairly routine doco, with your standard birth to success path being followed with the aide of a wealth of talking heads that are interspersed with music videos and live footage. Put bluntly, Suzi Q is a neat little flick for those who grew up listening to music in the seventies, or are big Suzi Quatro fans, or just like to know a bit about music history.
What does impress about Suzi Q is the reduced idolisation of Quatro as a major figure in rock’n’roll, removing the possible hagiographic vibe that usually comes with this kind of documentary. As a killer bassist, Quatro found a path through the exceedingly male music scene and crafted a massively successful career despite the music press thinking she was a creation of the men in her band. While there are many fellow musicians voicing their praise and respect for Quatro, there are also her family members who are vocal about not loving Suzi’s work.
By the nature of Quatro not being a hardcore atypical sex and drugs musician that was so common with the rock’n’rollers of the seventies, Suzi Q is, unfortunately, a little flat at times. This is as warts and all as a documentary like this could get, with no aspect of Quatro’s life being untouched, but by virtue of Quatro being a fairly clean figurehead, there’s little in the way of drama or mishaps that would otherwise threaten careers. I realise this sounds like I’m criticising Quatro for not leaning into the rock’n’roll world by avoiding that hardcore lifestyle, and in turn, not creating a legacy full of salacious details, but I want to stress that I’m not.
Instead, it’s more a sign that no matter how big an icon Quatro is, and how influential and important she is as a musician, there simply isn’t enough exciting and engaging narrative points to hang on in a 100 minute documentary. Or rather, there is enough information, it’s just merely not presented in a thrilling manner. I’ve lost count of how many paint-by-the-numbers musician documentaries I’ve watched – from The Wrecking Crew to Sound City to 20 Feet from Stardom – where they follow the same routine path through an artists life and politely inform about the history of their era. These are always interesting, always entertaining, always engaging films, but I struggle to recall much of their content a day or two afterwards.
Suzi Q is an enjoyable film that’s full of nuggets of information that make you go ‘hmm’ (I was surprised to hear about Quatro’s extensive run on Happy Days), but I can’t help but wish that the spotlight was shone on more of the iconic women who feature as interviewees. You’ve got Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, KT Tunstall, Tina Weymouth, Donita Sparks, Kathy Valentine, Wendy James, Lita Ford, and members of Suzi’s musical family. Suzi Quatro is an engaging figure, but she’s an engaging figure because of the people that she inspired, and while Firmager does touch on how she managed to inspire people (as Debbie Harry says, ‘here’s this little woman, petite, playing this enormous bass’) and how the culture of music presented women musicians, it feels very surface level.
This kind of documentary has value, but I had hoped that it would be as memorable as Quatro is herself – industry influencing, era defining, and simply iconic. As a way of recognising the immense talent of Suzi Quatro, Suzi Q works well enough, but I can’t help but wish that the scope had been widened, with the purview of the women of the seventies being explored in greater detail. If you’re interested in music history, then you’ll definitely have a good time.
Director: Liam Firmager
Featuring: Suzi Quatro, Cherie Currie, Joan Jett