With the surge of biopic films on ‘70s musicians like Queen and Elton John, apparently there is a muted call for a similar treatment for Teddy Pendergrass. For those in the dark on him, the Philadelphia-born singer began in modest settings that saw tragedy and various points through his life; his father was stabbed to death when he was 11, and then the more widely known car accident that rendered him a quadriplegic just before his 32nd birthday, and his death in 2010 before he turned 60. There is talk about a retelling of his life, but the documentary "If You Don't Know Me" dips a toe in that water beforehand.
Directed by documentary director Olivia Lichtenstein, the film aired on the Showtime cable network earlier this year, along with the BBC. Featuring interviews with his friends, musicians and family, and including some old interview footage of Pendergrass, the film looks at Teddy's background and growing up, the highs and lows of his life and the difficulties he had during it. For obvious reasons, the film gets a chance to show his music off. I'm aware of his catalog, but seeing him perform it with an initial power of youth and then a more refined balance after the accident, it was fascinating to watch.
The film doesn't walk away from some of the warts in Teddy's life; discussions about alcohol are touched on, but it looks at the way Teddy attempted to process the crash in the time afterward, and even his contemplation of suicide, that perhaps wasn't known to many. We are talking about a guy who was immensely successful in the years before the accident, and having this come up was surprising and relatable in a way that other documentaries perhaps wouldn't broach. Teddy's doctor and his therapist both talk about that time, but also get into how he was able to return to music (culminating with an onstage appearance at Live Aid with Ashford and Simpson) that, should a biopic be made about Teddy, is the perfect moment to end with.
Life rolls on in the ways that movies do not, and the years following that, his dealing with being paralyzed and continuing to make music is shown, and even some looks at his charity work and life in the years before his death is shown. When his death is touched on you cannot help but feel the loss as well, because the film doesn't try to run away from Teddy's life and actions, it just talks about them, and includes remembrances of him by those who know him best.
After seeing If You Don't Know Me, I feel like I do now when it comes to the life and achievements of Teddy Pendergrass, and I feel that the world is a little worse off by not having him around, in whatever manor of being that's possible these days. We have the music and the memories, but we also have a quietly poignant life being told in the documentary, one that I hope gets replicated loyally when it comes to whenever the eventual dramatic movie is made.The Blu-ray
The 1.78:1 high-definition presentation of If You Don't Know Me is decent, and juggles a few different pieces of material, be it old newsreel, home movies, stills and contemporary interviews. The interview subjects look okay and colors in clothing and cars is natural in both the new footage and the old. There are occasional moments of image noise or blown out white levels, but they are largely inherent in concert shots and the lighting therein. It appeared on cable television and I imagine it looks good given that target.The Sound:
Two-channel Dolby that sounds fine, and gives the music a little bit more feeling that is robust. The crowd noise sounds natural and interviews are consistent sounding as well. A couple of the performances make the vocal power feel a little palpable to boot.Extras:
There are four extended interviews (12:21), the last one being a redone music video for "Wake Up Everybody," all of which are interesting and brief. An interview with his second wife and widow Joan follows (3:35), and she talks about being married to the post-singing Teddy, and visits his gravesite. A trailer (2:27) rounds it out.Final Thoughts:
As one who knew cursory amounts of Teddy Pendergrass' life and music, I came away feeling a lot more informed about the man, his life and his discography, and understand a helluva lot more why his loss is still felt in some parts of the county to this day. Technically the disc is fine, though the sound is better than expected, and the supplements are a little scant, but the feature tells the story just fine on its own. Definitely worth checking out for fans of good music and/or good singers, as the film tells a compelling story.