Although it is structured no differently than dozens of other documentaries about artistic luminaries, from the cradle to the grave, “Luther: never too much“sheds light on much more than the R&B singer’s life and career. luther vandross. Drawn largely from interviews and performance footage of Vandross during her nearly 40 years in entertainment, and bolstered and contextualized by retrospective talks with collaborators and confidants, director Dawn Porter’s film exposes some uncomfortable truths about the music industry and the media. which we now know, but whose apparent ubiquity at the time he was alive may be difficult to fully understand.
White audience members in particular may be the ones who will learn the most about him, a fact that Porter pointedly attributes to the gender silos of radio’s heyday and cultural prejudices against black singers who were not thin or dark-skinned enough. clear to receive the opportunity to cross from the other. R&B to pop. Yet he began his career in projects with exactly the kind of broad appeal to which he was later denied access: acting on “Sesame Street,” singing and arranging vocals on David Bowie’s “Young Americans” album, and creating advertising jingles for products such as Miller High Life and Juicy Fruit gum.
Vandross, who is considered one of the first “real singers” to emerge from disco, wrote, arranged and produced songs for a variety of artists who inspired him, from Dionne Warwick to Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin, before joining their ranks in 1980 as a solo performer. (Even those who know his career will marvel at the breadth of his imprint and the long list of artists he worked with.)
Fittingly, the film showcases not only his flexible, muscular and versatile voice, but also the parade of hit songs he generated in the 1980s and 1990s, beginning with the eponymous documentary “Never Too Much,” ensuring a future rise in numbers. streaming for your body. of work. However, what becomes more powerful as the story of his life progresses is the media’s fixation on Vandross’s weight and subsequent sensational attributions of his fluctuations to unanswered questions about Vandross’s sexuality. he. Although the media has to some extent learned some lessons about the limits of what is appropriate when it comes to questioning public figures (not to mention health and body image), it is clear in Porter’s film that shame over what the world could see of him led to a fierce privacy about what they could not.
Your heart breaks along with that of former personal assistant Max Szadek as he describes how he realized that “Any Love,” the song Vandross considered most personal, actually reveals how desperate the singer was for romantic companionship. The film is measured in the treatment of his much-speculated sexuality (without a doubt, one of the bombshells that many viewers would have expected to find) and in the interviews with those who knew him, including Valerie Simpson, bassist Marcus Miller and his composer collaborator. Richard Marx, make disclosures that are respectful rather than revealing.
The fact that he was nicknamed “Dr. Love” by his legion of fans for his ability to put people in a good mood seems, in retrospect, a cruel irony for the man who, although surrounded throughout his life by friends and collaborators who adored him, was never able to be open about the kind of love he himself sought, much less found.
The other theme that runs through the film is her ambition as a performer and the way the recording industry hindered her efforts to become a full-fledged pop star. In an era when “crossing over” was an aspiration resisted by white-dominated pop charts and criticized by the black community, Vandross shamelessly and repeatedly attempted to achieve success big enough to place him among the ranks of Michael Jackson and Prince. Consequently, it was only after nine attempts that she won her first Grammy, almost 30 years into her career (and a new contract with Clive Davis’ J Records) that she received the support she wanted to escape what became the stigma. from being considered an R&B Artist, and another five after that to achieve a number one pop song on Billboard (for “Dance With My Father”).
To that end, Porter deftly emphasizes how much material he left behind and offers fragments generous enough that his film feels simultaneously like a biography and a musical anthology, an introduction and an invitation to explore it further. Sadly, Vandross was one of many soul music legends who died at a much younger age than they should have, including Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass. Each died of markedly different causes, but each of their talents burned brightly, uniquely, and influentially, and this film is evidence why Vandross deserves an equal place alongside them, regardless of how far his career extended into what we would consider the modern era of R&B. . Not only did he foreshadow the romantic and sexual yearning of New Jack Swing and its later musical tributaries, but his now classic escalation on the microphone made it possible for artists such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé to unleash his entire vocal range. on the charts.
A clip from an early interview discusses how he idolized and studied Aretha Franklin, who could absolutely knock out an audience even while performing “in neutral,” without appearing to try hard, and the observation is key to the style and power she was. synonymous with him as Good. If anything, “Never Too Much” shows how hard Luther Vandross worked to make his natural, irresistible talent look effortless. That it took him longer than he would have liked to achieve certain results, not because of his shortcomings but because of the predominant cultural forces of the time, is only one of many conclusions. But for many, the most important thing will be how prophetic the title of Dawn Porter’s documentary is, because after the first time you hear Vandross sing, you won’t be able to get enough.