At sixty nine, Blowfly can still make you blush. Given the sexual connotation of the number, the notoriously foul-mouthed almost-septuagenarian should be right at home. That prolific DP Jonathan Furmanski was moved to make this documentary on the man is no surprise, given just how magnetic the cantankerous old man is. Born Clarence Reid, Blowfly saw a “safe” career as a song writer, most notably collaborating with KC & the Sunshine Band – while in the meantime developing the sexually explicating shock act that still manages to turn heads. Blowfly’s bread and butter were and continue to be his twisted covers, lacing beloved hits with newly dirty lyrics. For the benefit of the reader, I’ll avoid posting any especially explicit titles – I’m sure you can figure out Blowfly’s alternate title for "Dancing with Myself" by Billy Idol.
Furmanski catches up with Reid amid a so-called comeback, heralded and shepherded by Tom Bowker, an admitted Blowfly fan who also serves as the backup drummer and manager. Bowker is a pronounced idea man who lacks both the funds and the audience to make Blowfly into a sensation drawing untold crowds – several concerts in Germany prove promising, but the audiences are never more than absent mindedly grooving to the potty mouthed lyrics that Reid grows with fatigued wiliness. Bowker and Reid frequently butt heads backstage, the old man given to some diva-esque behavior and the younger manager either intimately used to the sudden outbursts or genuinely impatient.
The background Furmanski provides on Reid is hardly extensive but substantial enough so that we know that somewhere inside the mind of a capable songwriter nested Blowfly, clothed in bright tights and a mask, spouting obscenities with an unhinged glee. Blowfly’s audience was hardly mainstream in his heyday, but as talking heads Chuck D. and Ice-T maintain, Reid is likely the original granddaddy of rap, with his rollicking (and amazingly inappropriate) "Rapp Dirty" featured prominently in the film. Maybe this writer is immature enough to still be reduced to giggles and inaudible gasps at some the of lyrical content, or maybe Reid still has whatever spark makes Blowfly something other than a perverted old man with a severe tendency to say bad words.
While The Weird World of Blowfly focuses exclusively on touring and backstage verbal brawls, it does feature Reid expressing some genuinely contrarian and unsettling opinions – he is a religious man who keeps a tattered Bible on hand and yet sees no real contradiction in performing songs that would be deemed filthy and ill-mannered by any sensible preacher. Despite coming up as a Miami soul music pioneer and a prolific artist, Reid rails against new types of music, even if it means introducing a new audience to his work via Otto von Schirach, an artist who Bowker feels would look good on a double bill with Blowfly.
Watching Reid wave off the opportunity and then grudgingly accept it and shuffle around on stage, either entirely into the grove or lost in a sea of new sound, the film takes on shades of The Wrestler. Blowfly’s over-the-top luchadore-meets-The Tick costume certainly recalls Randy’s getup, and Furmanski smartly includes Reid resting in a variety of hotel room beds while nibbling on some fast food, or the elderly man tugging on the costume for the hundredth time. This is sensitive subject matter and the vulgarian on display is an extremely sensitive man with a lot of love for his mother, but one who hardly sees his ex-wives or grown children.
There is a brief point where Furmanski trains his camera on Reid and asks him about selling off the rights to his entire catalog for a miniscule sum during a more desperate time. The usually mouthy man shuts down, bottling up the anger – certainly he understands the cost of his decision. Faced with the same question, Bowker shakes his head, silently wondering why. In a film filled with words, most of them unprintable here, these moments resonate and elevate The Weird World of Blowfly to a strong recommendation.
"The Weird World of Blowfly" opens September 23, 2011 and is rated . Comedy, Documentary, Drama. Directed by Jonathan Furmanski. Starring Chuck D, Clarence Reid, Tom Bowker, Ice T, Otto Von Schirach.