Picks and Pans Review: Listen Up: the Lives of Quincy Jones

updated 11/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Documentary

When composer-arranger-producer Quincy Jones was host of Saturday Night Live last winter, he good-naturedly took part in a skit in which Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, as two sycophantic French jazz buff's, slavered over him, calling him Le Q and fighting over the remains of his sandwich.

This documentary is similar in unrestrained, love-you-to-the-last-follicle tone, only it's two hours long.

Jones comes across as admirable, likable and thoughtful. His achievements—including scoring the films The Pawnbroker and The Color Purple, producing albums for Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson, and turning out "We Are the World"—are undeniable. Even his admirers, though, seem to see him more as a facilitator than musician—as Miles Davis says, "He does what he has to do"—and in any case, his life could fit into an hour-long TV documentary.

Instead, producer Courtney Sale (PBS's Strokes of Genius) Ross and first-time director Ellen Weissbrod offer Jones himself reminiscing, dozens of people who know him talking about Jones in repetitive sound-bite snippets and skitterish editing techniques in which voices overlap and images flash in and out with bewildering speed.

Jolie Jones, one of Quincy's six children, notes at least twice what a negligent father he has been, but there isn't a hint of real insight into his music. The hyperbolic nature of the proceedings is suggested by Jones's own comment that Jackson's success represented "the first time kids around the world ever had a black hero," rather conveniently overlooking Muhammad Ali, Pelé and Louis Armstrong, not to mention Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of the people interviewed about Jones might have made more worthy subjects for this kind of treatment—Davis, Ray Charles, Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Barbra Streisand among them. (Jackson rather ungraciously agreed to be interviewed only off-camera and in the dark.)

Even if you haven't decided that you've seen enough of Jones by the time he gets around to talking about his brain surgery, you will when the camera zooms in for a close-up of palpitating gray matter. No, folks, this is not what is meant by having a documentary gel inside its subject's head. (PG-13)

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