Monday, January 25, 2021

The Black Godfather


I watch "Casablanca" almost as much as I listen to "The Who Sell Out." I think they have something in common. 

"Casablanca's" characters are so rich that every one of them, even those with the fewest lines, like Peter Lorre's Ugarte and Sydney Greenstreet's "Ferrari" to the pickpocket early on, Curt Bois, are so intriguing, you could see whole movies based on just their stories. With "The Who Sell Out," my reaction is the same. The contents are so much different than anything before or after in The Who's catalogue, with layers of sound and unconventional subject matter, I almost wish there were mini Pete operas about the kid and his tattoo, or Mary Anne with the shakey hand. I am never bored, no matter how many times I go in to either.

There is a documentary running on Netflix, a 2019 film by Reginald Hudlin called "The Black Godfather" about Clarence Avant. Are you familiar with Clarence Avant? I thought I was, placing his name somewhere in the history of Motown. But I thought wrong.

Clarence Avant made deals. To go any further is a bit complicated, but like "Casablanca" and "The Who Sell Out," those who tell Avant's story, from Quincy Jones, Clive Davis and Jerry Moss, to Bill Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Barack Obama, to Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, to Avant's wife and daughter Jackie and Nicole, and Bill Withers (!), are so rich with color and content, not to mention the subject himself, when it was all over, I wanted another two hours of just Withers and his stories, and then two hours more of just Snoop Dogg and his stories, and more with Jackie and Nicole. With the exception of Jamie Foxx, who I believe is now on his 14th crate of "15 Minutes" since his Oscar win for "Ray," there isn't one talking head who didn't offer something brilliant.

And then there's the music. It's there, but it's never the focus as much as what's behind it and in every case, it was Clarence Avant, who among other things, signed Bill Withers and Rodriguez, simply because he liked what he heard. Or, how Avant protected Don Cornelius and "Soul Train" from Dick Clark's own version "Soul Unlimited." Heard of "Soul Unlimited?" Me either. Avant made it not happen. But there's more to it, of course.

I can't recall enjoying a documentary as much as I enjoyed "The Black Godfather." As my friend David who recommended it said, "It's one jaw drop after another." 

See it!!


David Handelman said...

The doc - and the heretofore obscure Mr. Avant -- touches on so many parts of our culture -- not just black culture! Jimmy Carter! Hillary! -- that at times I was worried my leg was being pulled, like in "The Rutles." It also reveals the shadow side of show biz AND politics, where people who are "connected" not only make deals happen, but make debts go away....

I wondered if it would more accurately be called "The Black Consigliere" because Avant (while more colorful) operates more like Tom Hagen (Duvall) -- an invisible hand wielding all the power behind it.

Shit, now I have to write my own blog post. And to watch The Who Sell Out.
'What watch?' 'Ten watch.' 'Such watch?'

Peter Ames Carlin said...

Here's what I don't understand: Did he rip off Rodriguez? Because "Searching For Sugarman" sure makes it seem like that, but in "The Black Godfather" he offers happy talk about how great it is that Rodriguez eventually got his due, and doesn't mention what happened to all the $ his South African releases made.

What do you think?

cmealha said...

This is been on my queue forever but I've never pulled the trigger on it. Thanks for the nudge,

Sal Nunziato said...

I don't really know what to think. There are stories about Rodriguez unknowingly signing away his publishing, but publishing always becomes confusing. Avant was called "The Black Godfather" so who knows who owes what to who.

FD13NYC said...

Good movie! I vaguely had heard about him over the years, but this movie which I actually viewed twice last year put all the pieces into perspective. The artists, the labels, the money and the deals that went down were quite extraordinary.

soundsource said...

great movie

cmealha said...

I had never heard of Clarence Avant. Had no inkling of who he was. What a character and what an amazing journey. I know who he is now and I won't forget him. Wonderful movie.

Christine said...

Will do.