Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me
Following the life and rise of sensational R&B superstar Teddy Pendergrass, from his youth spent singing at street corners and his time as a Blue Note, throughout his astronomical solo career to a lifechanging accident that left him paralysed from the waist down, Olivia Lichenstein’s Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me is an inspirational documentary not just for those familiar with his work. Featuring interviews with family, friends and industry insiders, alongside rare archive footage including confessional tapes recorded by the singer himself, this film gives a revealing insight into his life and the state of the music industry at the time, all wrapped up in a soulful soundtrack of Pendergrass’s powerhouse vocals.
Comprised predominately of archive footage of live performances and television appearances alongside interviews with those who were close to the singer, the film’s greatest strength is in the way it assembles a multifaceted tapestry of how he presented himself to the world, how he was understood by others and how he, through a variety of tape recordings heard throughout the documentary, perceived events himself while avoiding the temptation to paint him in a single light. Through hearing a handful of viewpoints of the same events, we not only get a more detailed account of the narrative, but are also gradually given more information about the characters of those involved.
Moreover, while Pendergrass makes for a riveting subject, If You Don’t Know Me is more concerned with digging a little further below the surface to examine issues of gang violence that plagued Philadelphia as well as race within broader contexts of the music industry and America. It’s moments like these that expand seemingly small caveats into something much more substantial. Strangely, though, this also works against the film as these tangents often muddy the chronology of events, doubling back on themselves to serve whatever topic the discussion moves to. Given the crux of the picture is only found towards the final third, it’s puzzling that these themes aren’t introduced earlier; without a clear opening statement, the first two acts are left without any focus.
Soulful and thoroughly entertaining, If You Don’t Know Me is a rich documentary of the life and career of Teddy Pendergrass and a window into the state of the Philadelphia music scene that’ll spark interest amongst dedicated fans and newcomers to the music legend, despite its unfocused presentation.
Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me is released in select cinemas on 22nd February 2019.
Watch the trailer for Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me here: