Director: Frank Licari, Helen Murphy, Khoa Le
Synopsis: Covering the life and continuing career of one of America’s most influential artists.
I have to admit, before the people behind this film came forward, asking me to review this movie, I can’t say I knew who José Feliciano was. Or so I thought. In watching the film, and going back and listening to his works, I realized he made many songs I had heard and loved, but I had no idea it was him. But upon finding out through this documentary, I not only realized how big his fame was, but I also was able to realize his importance to the music community as a whole.
And his influence was sparked by what was highly controversial at the time but is the norm now, and that was by putting his own twist on the Star-Spangled Banner. Now, this documentary touches on a big portion of Feliciano’s life, his real influence came from his “Star-Spangled Backlash”. And the film begins by telling us exactly how controversial what he did was. It isn’t as if he changed the words to the National Anthem or made the beloved American song into a disgrace, but he was able to put his own Puerto Rican spin on the song by playing in his own way.
And going back to watch the video of this magnificent performance, you can see how once he begins to sing, the camera leaves and never goes back to him. They kept away from showing Feliciano giving his beautiful rendition, as the controversy and outrage were already sparked. Feliciano wasn’t trying to do something controversial but wanted to give his own soul into the American tune.
Without knowing it, Jose changed the landscape of what it meant to be an American. It wasn’t about doing everything the same way, but providing an individualism that in this country, each person could be who they wanted to be. But even though Jose became a pioneer for American individualism, this didn’t mean that he was immediately an American hero.
What is so great about Behind this Guitar is the true journey we take behind the Guitar. One of the most influential artists in the world might be someone you don’t know much about. And we get to see his influence on many different aspects of life. Puerto Rican culture, music, and American culture as well. All of the Grammy’s and awards Jose won couldn’t compare to how it must have felt being asked to donate his guitar to the Smithsonian Museum. This, for me, was such a tender moment that gave me hope. For years, Jose had been seen as an enemy to some, and a hero to others, and on this day, he was able to become a hero for all. Jose proved himself to be more American than most, not because he was like everyone else, but because he chose to be different.
Final: José Feliciano: Behind This Guitar truly takes us behind the guitar into the life of one of the most influential American artists there has ever been. Feliciano never sought out to be a hero, but in term became one to so many because he chose to be himself.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.