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Little Richard: I Am Everything

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Little Richard: I Am Everything
Photograph: Dogwoof

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom! An exhilarating look at the fast life and faster times of Little Richard

‘I’m the emancipator and the architect!’ says Little Richard in archive footage at the start of I Am Everything. ‘I’m the one that started it all!’ Lisa Cortés’ conventional but exciting, enthralling documentary makes a compelling case that Richard was not only the architect of rock ’n’ roll as we know it but also an outlier in infusing Black-gay attitude and aesthetics into popular culture. 

Mixing direct to camera reminiscences from titans such as Mick Jagger and Tom Jones with more telling contributions from African-American/queer academics (Zandria Robinson, Jason King), the portrait is as good on the electrifying music (‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Lucille’, ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’, and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’) as it is on why Richard was a pioneering but complicated figure. His flamboyant, sexually fluid persona paved the way for the likes of Bowie, Elton John, Prince and Harry Styles. Perhaps even more importantly, he inspired John Waters’ pencil thin ‘tache. 

Cortés sketches Richard Wayne Penniman’s life in chronological order, from his tough upbringing in Macon, Georgia, to hard-earned success, drugs and orgies, then giving up rock ’n’ roll to study theology and renounce his homosexuality. But certain themes recur: the sense that he (understandably) felt hard done by over the royalties he never got, the respect that was never forthcoming; and the lifelong internal battle between his religious faith and gender identity. To Cortés’ credit, rather than pure hagiography, I Am Everything is alive to the complexities of a man who elevated a community and then, arguably, sold them out. 

For all the liberation Little Richard gifted others, he was unable to find it for himself

Cortés makes witty use of editing to expose how Richard was appropriated by safer white artists, juxtaposing his version of ‘Tutti Frutti’ (a song originally about anal sex) with Elvis Presley’s and an even more anodyne Pat Boone take.  She’s less successful with her filmmaking bag of tricks. The film’s stylistic gambits, particularly a motif of GGI glitter motes that presumably represents the singer’s sparkle, feel redundant, chiefly because the film’s jewel in the crown is Richard himself. 

The welter of meticulously researched, perfectly chosen interview material cements Richard’s status as chat show gold – he initiated the term ‘Shut up!’ and could have probably made ‘fetch’ happen too – an endlessly engaging raconteur. It’s this charm that makes Little Richard: I Am Everything’s central thesis – for all the liberation he gifted others, he was unable to find it for himself – all the more poignant.

In US theaters now. 
In UK cinemas Apr 28.

Ian Freer
Written by
Ian Freer

Cast and crew

  • Director:Lisa Cortes
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