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Laramie Movie Scope: Quincy

Documentary about the talented and prolific Quincy Jones

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 5, 2019 – If you don't know much about Quincy Jones, this movie will cure that gap in your knowledge about American music. I sure didn't know much about him before watching this vivid and intimate look into his long, spectacular music career.

I'm not going to write a biography of Quincy's life, you can watch the film, or read the Wikipedia article for that. I'm just going to write a few details from his life that stuck with me after watching the film, and comment about how the movie was put together.

At one point in the film, he shows the scar on his hand where somebody put a knife through it, and a scar on his head from an ice pick attack on the streets of the South Side of Chicago where he grew up. Quincy said he wanted to be a gangster as a child, and had never seen a white person before age 11. In another scene, he goes back to one of the places where he grew up and looked at the room where people came in and put his mother in a straight jacket and took her away to an insane asylum.

One thing that comes across in the film is that Quincy is a workaholic, even in his 80s, and not in the best of health, he is constantly on the move, hurrying from one project to another. A significant part of the film follows his work to organize the opening ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. in 2016. When organizers have trouble contacting former Defense Secretary Colin Powell, Quincy calls him on the phone, persuading him to attend the ceremony. Powell later says that he came to the ceremony because Quincy called him.

Quincy, like other black musicians, does not want to be pigeonholed. Over his career, he often moved freely between different musical styles and aspects of music, seeking new challenges and conquering new territory. In the 1950s, black musicians were not allowed to write for strings, so he moved to Paris in 1957 to study with Nadia Boulanger, the queen of classical music, who also taught Leonard Bernstein and was Igor Stravinsky's mentor.

Another thing that impressed me was the close friendship between Quincy and legendary singer Frank Sinatra. Quincy shows off a ring that Sinatra left him in his will. He never takes it off. He recounts his experiences in Las Vegas as a music arranger and conductor for Sinatra and the Count Basie Orchestra in 1964. Las Vegas was segregated in those days, but Sinatra put a stop to the segregation.

“No black entertainer in their right mind would wander around those casino hotels,” Quincy said, “It was trip, because Sammy Davis, Lena Horne, Belafonte, they used to work in the big room as the stars, but they had to eat in the kitchen. They couldn't go in the casino, and they had to sleep in the black hotels across town ... Frank, by himself, stopped all that. He said, ‘We're going to fix this shit,’ and he did.”

Quincy moved on to Hollywood, becoming one of the first blacks to write musical scores for major films, and the first to win Academy Awards for musical scores and songs. He worked with such stars as Will Smith and Michael Jackson. He was a producer of the award-winning film “The Color Purple,” going on to produce a number of films and television productions.

In one scene Quincy is shown in a hospital bed, coming out a diabetic coma, the doctor asks him what year it is. He did not know. He asked him who the president is, and he replied “Sarah Palin,” indicating his sense of humor was still intact. He had two life-threatening brain aneurisms, the first was bad enough that his family was planning a memorial service, which he later attended, with his doctor.

At one point in the film, an interviewer asked him if there was one thing in his life he had attempted, but not succeeded in doing, and he replied, “marriage.” He has been married three times and has seven children by five different women. His most famous wives are the actresses Nastassja Kinski (“Tess” and “Terminal Velocity”) and Peggy Lipton (“The Mod Squad” TV show).

This documentary gives a vivid, intimate portrait of Quincy Jones, as well as some people close to him. There are numerous flashbacks, and segments from previously recorded interviews, such as one with the late Frank Sinatra. Directors Rashida Jones (daughter of Quincy) and Alan Hicks weave these various elements and time lines together very effectively, ably helped by editors Andrew McAllister and Will Znidaric. This is an enlightening and well-constructed documentary about an amazing man. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]