Title: The Weird World of Blowfly
Director: Jonathan Furmanski
At 72 years old, Clarence Reid could be your cranky neighbor or arthritic uncle — until, that is, he slips on a homemade superhero costume and starts spitting out raunchy rhymes that would make 2 Live Crew proud. At once a sort of niche canonization along the lines of “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” and a more generalized travelogue documentary about the third-tier touring life for marginal and nostalgia acts, “The Weird World of Blowfly,” so named for Reid’s funky alter ego, is a nonfiction curio that gets by on the personality of its subject, and little more.
By day, Reid was a hit producer in the Miami soul scene of the 1960s and ’70s, co-writing Gwen McRae’s “Rockin’ Chair” and Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” (the latter of which was ironically later sampled by Ghetto Boy Willie D in his take on the song, “Clean Up Man”), among many other tunes. By night, however, and on into the ’70s, he was a rapper — maybe even the first rapper — who was as at home and skilled at dropping refashioned, dirty lyrics over existent songs as he was coming up with his own naughty, tongue-in-cheek tunes of sexual prowess and destruction. To that end, the film deploys, in not always convincing scattershot fashion, a litany of industry and genre talking heads like Ice-T, Chuck D, author Jamie Lowe and others, to give props to Reid and his largely under-touted, overlooked legacy.
In general, “The Weird World of Blowfly” charts Reid through a couple tours and performances — one Stateside, comprised of about 10 dates in smaller clubs, and the other opening in front of festival and arena crowds as big as 13,000, for a German nu-metal group who were perhaps somewhat unlikely fans of his in their youth. The thing that the movie most has going for it is Reid himself, who remains this rather inscrutable but still magnetic and watchable figure. In that regard, the movie is not unlike an otherwise mediocre sports team being willed to the playoffs, and perhaps beyond, by the anchoring presence of one lone superstar.
The list of things wrong with the movie is significant. Well… not wrong, exactly. Just curious and incomplete is more like it. Jonathan Furmanski, a director of photography making his directorial debut with “The Weird World of Blowfly,” evinces no great sense of style, nor inquisitiveness; in fact, at times he seems more scared of his subject rather than in awe. It’s around the 75-minute mark that the audience first meets Reid’s mother, which would seem an interesting place to start given his stories of how he began singing dirty, made-up lyrics to popular tunes in an effort to antagonize the white, land-owning bosses at the family farm of his youth.
Also unexplained is the impetus for Blowfly’s lucha libre-style costume, or why he keeps the fingernails on only one of his hands grown out several inches. Then there’s the matter of how Reid himself views his lifestyle, and familial estrangements. One could perhaps argue these topics were deemed off limits by Reid, but for the fact that Reid’s ex-wife, namesake son and professional basketball-playing daughter are all interviewed themselves. By not getting Reid’s own take on his divorce and (seemingly) continued lack of a presence in his children’s lives, Furmanski just kind of throws up his hands, and indicates none of this is worth exploring, which is of course malarkey. Instead, the film frames itself as a sort of unlikely “bromance” between Reid and Tom Bowker, a journalist turned drummer, and Reid’s manager and chief salesman to the outside world. In the end, though, Furmanski can’t even really commit to this tack.
Overall, “The Weird World of Blowfly” receives the slimmest of recommendations — for at least music fans, and those who enjoyed 2009’s similarly themed “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” — just because Reid is an interesting figure. For general audiences, though, the lapses in filmmaking judgment render this more of a tragically unexplored world than a “Weird World.”
Written by: Brent Simon