53rd Chicago Int’l Film Fest #15: “Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me” (USA)

“Sammy Davis Jr.: I Gotta Be Me” (USA)
Directed by Sam Pollard

slideshow-black-president-sammydavisjr

So…a ninety minute, well-researched, lovingly constructed documentary on the life of Sammy Davis Jr., filled with interviews of contemporaries who knew him best? Truly, what’s not to love? I’m a huge fan of Davis Jr. and yet there was so much I didn’t know packed in to this film..even as it related to his performing career 9which I thought I knew all about), never mind the ups and downs of his personal life…and their intrinsic connection to race relations in America (which is what gives the film it’s significant heft). It’s a dense ninety minutes, with some of the best performance footage you’ll ever see. And some of the most cringe-worthy, as well, for the aforementioned reasons.

My only problem with the film (and a small one, at that) is with the format director Sam Pollard has chosen. Pollard gives us chapters to tell us his story…instead of an uninterrupted journey…”Performer”, “Lover”, “Civil Rights”, etc. The effect is that you never feel you’ve heard a whole story…just bits of one. And, worse, it makes you long for a ninety minute film on each aspect. I can see why he chose to do it as such since there actually ARE more sides to this extremely complex man than just about anyone else in American cultural history. In that sense, it might have simply been an impossible task for Pollard. Or maybe each segment deserved its own film…I’m sure Pollard has the material. But, I’m being overly critical at this point…or maybe I’m doing just the opposite. Maybe the film is SO dense, I just wanted more.

Whichever it is, when it appears on PBS’ “American Masters” in the next month or so, DO NOT MISS IT! But don’t take my word for it…simply watch the trailer…

Written on 10/26/2017

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