In films, the opening scenes are some of the most important. These are the first views of the character, setting, or narrative in general, that the filmmaker has deliberated over and handpicked for audiences. There is a reason for the choice of opening scenes, and for Quincy, by codirectors Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks, that scene is of their subject, the legendary Quincy Jones himself, sitting with another legend in the music industry Dr. Dre. The anecdote the Quincy shares is one that is very intimate. It reminds us that there is a lot about this man that we, fans and audience, don’t know.
In the words of Kevin Hart, “Well you gone learn today!”
Quincy Jones, despite all of his many accomplishments, is still a man. Directors Hicks and Jones never want the audience to forget that. In fact, they interweave live footage Hicks’ documentation crew took over the course of three years with family-style home video taken by Jones, old family pictures, and snippets from Quincy’s contribution to Black music history. The result is a look at Quincy as a regular guy–who just happens to really good with musical notes.
The audience is treated to some of the most intimate moments with the now 81-year-old musical phenom as he, like any other man his age, struggles with his own health, additions, and mortality. One of the most gripping scenes comes early on as we watch Jones shed her camera and co-directors’ mantle to have a frank discussion with her elderly father about his health. The scene is of a daughter worried about her father—not an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner and his award-winning actress, director, producer daughter. The man is vulnerable and stubborn. She is worried but just as stubborn.
So many of the Netflix viewers taking in the film will identify with this very scene. According to the Pew Research Center, 33% percent of Americans have elderly parents that need assistance in caring for themselves or their affairs. This means that, despite the man’s genius, Quincy is facing the same aging issues as other American families. Thus, the scenes showing the man at his most vulnerable are not gratuitous, but they show a side of the family that so many can relate to. It’s also another way to break through the veil of celebrity so that the world can see the real man behind it.
Throughout the documentary, there are reminders of Quincy’s greatness that are juxtaposed some of the mundane moments that show him to be just a man. There is even a scene that will stop your breath in your chest, and make you wonder if you missed something in the news. You didn’t the family kept is quiet. You’ll see why. After that, it won’t be a chore to suspend the idea of “Quincy Jones—legend” as the film introduces more intimate knowledge about the man.
Once this happens, an important theme emerges. That of the quest for a family that Quincy has undertaken since losing his as a child. He joined gangs, and then, upon discovering music, he turned his sites to the family atmosphere of the band. As an adult, he sought out his own family, despite, as he admits, having no idea of how to be a father and a husband. He also clings to the memory of his mother, and in a scene where he is going through a box found in his archives, we discover that at 81, the boy is still damaged by growing up under the care of an unstable woman.
Hicks and Jones essentially scrub away the shine on Quincy’s glamorous life to bring something very different than any documentary on the man has. Some of the events that took place while shooting Quincy were so unexpected and real that the filming was paused momentarily to discuss whether they should move on. The decision to keep filming was quick but impactful. We now have a record of the humanity that lives inside of a living legend. The footage also helps us to remember that an entire generation of history makers are also sharing the same health and mortality issues.
The intimacy and bold storytelling are worth watching Quincy alone. Quincy’s frank narration and discussion of his criminal past as a poor and practically orphaned child is told as if we are sitting around him in lawn chairs at a cookout. It’s like listening to one of the older uncles or grandfathers tell stories of “back in the day” as the sun sets and the grill cools down. Even his recounting of his relationship with his mother is told as if it were a family secret we are being let in on. Hicks and Jones really capture the man while giving the audience an intimacy that other documentaries of the man only dream of.
The directors, the subject (Quincy), and the storytelling components come together to really introduce us to a Quincy so many of us have yet to meet. In Quincy, a legend is able to climb down from the pedestal he’s been on for so long and gather us all around him for a story about a man who loved music.
Quincy premieres on Netflix September 21.
For more of our reviews from TIFF check out the following:
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Jonita Davis is a writer, mother, a certified nerd, and writer of Black Girl Nerds. Davis is a critic and journalist. She has been writing for 13 years about the way pop culture and politics affect our lives as parents, women, black women, nerds, and people of this planet.