Some personalities are such that it’s almost impossible for someone not to make an interesting documentary about them; all a filmmaker needs to do is turn on a camera and point and shoot to come away with a product audiences will want to see. Such is the case with The Weird World of Blowfly, a year-in-the-life documentary about the original Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the prickly, perverted alter ego of singer-songwriter Clarence Reid, an important presence in the Florida R&B scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s, responsible for songs by Betty Wright, Sam & Dave, Gwen McCrae, and KC and the Sunshine Band, not to mention some chart-topping hits of his own. Though it was made by a fanboy, The Weird World of Blowfly manages not to blindly glorify its subject, if only because Clarence, now somewhat depressive being elderly and poor, isn’t the party monster his Blowfly music makes him out to be (“Girl Let Me Cum in Your Mouth,” like any of his nearly unprintable song titles, clearly elicits his virile mood).
Director Jonathan Furmanski fittingly drops in on his diarrhea-of-the-mouthed hero in his 69th year, finding him still active and getting ready for a tour with his half-as-old drummer/manager Tom Bowker, a large, raspy-voiced force determined to make Blowfly—a “brand” he considers to be of his own creation—profitable again. As you can imagine, after spending time on the road together, the two get at each others’ throats in scenes that candidly reveal the exigencies of tour life. Even more, the film tells us a lot of things about Clarence that his lyrics belie, sketching out an intimate portrait of a solidly insincere performer: While he does at times run his mouth off with profanities, he also believes in God, and, he claims, never smoke, drank, or partook in as much hanky panky as the colorful stories in his songs would have you think. Perhaps most illustrative of his true beliefs are the scenes that reveal his diet choices: Clarence doesn’t eat pizza out of a box that’s touched a chair that might have touched someone’s ass, but he prefers his McDonald’s breakfast jumbled, mashed, and sauced to the point that it looks like it might have landed in a toilet.
If The Weird World of Blowfly is any different from other documentaries about eccentric characters from music-world obscurity, it’s in the contentious topics Clarence touches on in his cantankerous speech. If The Devil and Daniel Johnson, Hated, and Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt all seemed to be, underneath, films about varying degrees of mental illness, The Weird World of Blowfly is about racism, giving us, intentionally or not, plenty to ponder, like why Clarence is racist against other blacks, and how white racism has shaped his music—which, he says, was formed during his days of essentially being a slave hand on a Georgia farm where he would provocatively change the lyrics to wholesome white songs (“Should I Stay or Should I Go?” becomes “Should I Fuck This Big Fat Hoe?”), a kind of verbal proto-graffiti. None of the other people on screen dare to go into these thorny topics with him, but being one step removed, the audience may be better able to address them. While it’s said that every comedian has a tragic side, what’s easier to acknowledge is that Blowfly’s songs, however juvenile, can be clever and sometimes hilarious, as cartoonishly raunchy as an R. Crumb comic.