Lisa Cortés speaks about her documentary “Little Richard: I Am Everything” on opening night of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Photo by Jovelle Tamayo
By Vanessa Zimmer
The Little Richard we know is the one who called himself the “beautiful Little Richard from Macon, Georgia” and the “bronze Liberace.” He mugged to the camera, “I’m not conceited,” waited a beat, then, “I’m convinced” with wide eyes and a hearty laugh. And he pounded that piano at a high-speed, raucous tempo like something galloping out of this world, singing “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Lucille,” and so many more.
The Little Richard we learn about in Little Richard: I Am Everything — which premiered Thursday, January 19, in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival — is a man who lived in contradictions. His life resembled a tug of war between his deep religious faith on one side and his sexuality and joyful, infectious rock ’n’ roll on the other.
To wit: He claimed to be one of the first performers to come out as gay. Then he renounced homosexuality and married for a time. He quit show business to do the Lord’s work, giving up rock ’n’ roll for restrained gospel music. Then he was back again in 1962 at a concert in London, jumping off a balcony to the stage and launching into “Good Golly, Miss Molly.”
Lisa Cortés’ documentary interweaves footage of Little Richard (he died in 2020) and interviews with contemporaries and scholars. Little Richard believed he never received the credit, financial or otherwise, he deserved, and those experts agree. He declared, with agreement from artists like Elvis Presley and The Beatles, that he was the guy who started rock ’n’ roll as we know it.
“He was stardust, he was magic,” said Cortés in the Q&A following the film. And his music still moves people.
In the documentary, Little Richard recalls that he started singing in his church choir in Macon, Georgia, when he was just a kid. “They wouldn’t let me sing much because I wouldn’t stop,” he says.
And, thank goodness, he never did.