PODCAST| Matt Micucci interviews Phil Cox, director of the film Betty – They Say I’m Different.
To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture
Director Phil Cox presented his documentary Betty – They Say I’m Different, on the life of 70’s funk singer Betty Davis, at the 30th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). In Cox’s words, Betty was a “black pioneering funk woman who … took on the establishment and the for some reason disappeared off the face of the earth.” She performed electrifying, sexual, bold, provocative, female empowered music at a time when it was completely unheard of. Even now, when music is neatly packaged and dull, it’s very hard to be as original as she was, and her struggle to remain independent is more remarkable when we consider that she was a black woman. In this interview, Cox also talks about the influence she had on the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, who she was married to at one time, at a time when his music was becoming dull and people were turning away from jazz. He also talks about how he found her; it was, he says, very difficult and it took some time before she started to open up. Even then, “things were complicated.” The director also talks about whether he always had a style in mind for Betty – They Say I’m Different, or whether the visual style of his documentary was formed by the conversations he had with Davis. The filming, in fact, led him to conclude that “the more obstacles you have, the more you’re forced to become creative.”
Betty – They Say I’m Different: With her suggestive lyrics (If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up) and audacious outfits, the funk singer Betty Davis is far ahead of her time. Too far, perhaps. “If Betty were singing today she’d be something like Madonna; something like Prince,” wrote jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in his 1989 autobiography. Davis married Betty in 1968, and she kept his surname after their divorce the following year. Betty – They Say I’m Different, named after her second studio album, which was released in 1974, focuses on the reasons why this “bold soul sister” left the music industry in the late 1970s. There are interviews with family members, friends, and former band members. The voice-over, tinted with resignation as it describes her life and its directions, is inspired by interviews with Betty Davis and her song lyrics. Davis has various alter egos: besides Nasty Girl (the title of her third album), there’s also the more spiritual Crow. Regardless, she’s “happy my music is still alive.”