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A Couldn’t-Keep-My-Eyes-Dry Joe Cocker Film at CPH:DOX

March 18, 2017
bradspurgeon

Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker

COPENHAGEN – My second day at CPH:DOX started off just great: Wet eyes throughout the documentary “Joe Cocker : Mad Dog With Soul” by John Edginton. And did it help that Mr. Edginton was in the audience and spoke to us before and after the film? Well, yes, actually it did: I learned what might seem very obvious, but that is that with a small budget, and huge constraints on the copyrighted clips of other people, without any interviews by the director of his subject, it is still possible with a strong enough story and subject matter to create a film that fills our eyes with tears for 90 minutes.

A few times during the film – this was its international premiere – I made the comparison to “Amy” by Asif Kapadia, since he too used clips made by other people and never interviewed Amy Winehouse. But Amy was done, according to Edginton (who also directed “Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here” and “Genesis: Together and Apart”), with a much bigger budget. So it was possible for Kapadia to procure all of the material he needed, or that was available. I assume – he might say differently. Whereas Edginton explained that with Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul there were many interviews he could not do, many clips he could not buy, that he would have liked to have. And one that he DID have – a hugely touching moment between Ray Charles and Cocker – that he said would have cost half the budget of the whole film had he said “yes” to the first asking price!

Anyway, let’s forget those negatives: This film is a fairly traditionally assembled documentary about Cocker, with interviews with his brother, former early band members, managers and his wife Pam. The very few times we actually do see Cocker talking, are enough, though, to understand the many, many times we hear from other people – including Glyn Johns – about what a sweet, kind and gentle man Cocker was. Oh, he also had a very nasty streak, ending friendships or business relationships – out of the blue – and never speaking to the people again.
Joe Cocker in Woodstock

But in some ways, I am reminded of Amy Winehouse, another drug addict and doomed personality, who is washed along through life by the forces outside of them – other people – without the strength to stand up for themselves. And you just want to reach out and help them. And in both cases, they nevertheless had their exceptional careers thanks entirely to the ethereal talent they possessed. Cocker, on the other hand, did find a kind of happiness and equilibrium that Amy never did.

And it is precisely that talent, and that personality of Cocker that made this film hold me from the beginning to the end, and kept those tears in my eyes. From a horrendous-looking neighborhood of row houses in Sheffield where he was a plump little gas-fitter – like a plumber but for fitting up gas – to an icon of the 1960s singing “A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock” and through to his huge hit songs of the 1980s while in his 40s, rising up from addiction and failure and breakdowns time and again, it was just such a touching story. And all the more so, no doubt, in that I could not really see Edginton’s craft at work – he was not, as far as I could tell, employing techniques to grab the viewer’s emotion. He didn’t need to. Cocker did all that.

3 Comments

  1. Hey Brad, nice review. In the sense that you recognise John’s understated style. I was lucky enough to be the cameraman on some of the talking heads and John has a beguiling manner that always always brings out some nuance or detail that would elude some of our more recent film-makers. Many thanks.

    • Thank you very very much for that comment. And it comes, interestingly, just as I run from one film to another – the one I’m about to see being “Cameraperson”! Nice synchronicity.

  2. Very perceptive review that answered questions I had before seeing the film.

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