Tribeca Film Festival: “Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres” Review

Tribeca Film Festival: “Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres” Review

102 minutes | USA | 2021

Director: Suzanne Joe Kai
Editors: Doug Blush, Dan Lawrence, Greg Byers, William Gilmore 
Cinematographers: Hiroshi Hara, Jason Joseffer, Fraser Bradshaw 
Producer:  Suzanne Joe Kai
Executive producers: Freida Lee Mock, Doug Blush, Tony Hsieh, Bryn Mooser, Andy Hsieh, Kathryn Everett
Writer: Suzanne Joe Kai
Cast: Ben Fong-Torres, Elton John, Carlos Santana, Steve Martin, Quincy Jones, Bob Weir, Cameron Crowe, Annie Leibovitz

“Music is more than music. Music is also communication; it is also a message. It is also a way to change people’s minds, expand people’s minds. Whatever it is, music will always have more of a function than just entertainment. And that will never end.” -Ben Fong-Torres

Suzanne Joe Kai’s fast-paced and endlessly entertaining documentary takes a look at Ben Fong-Torres, writer and former senior editor for Rolling Stone. Director Cameron Crowe tells the story of meeting him in 1973 at a Rolling Stones concert when he was 15-years-old and subsequently working for the magazine after Fong-Torres gave him a 750-word assignment to write on the band Poco. He then was immortalized by Terry Chen in Crowe’s film, Almost Famous. Here in the documentary, we get a deeper look into Fong-Torres and his family. His father posed as a Filipino in order to immigrate to the United States, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Fong-Torres’ early life was harsh: he had to work in his family’s restaurant and experienced racism when his family made a temporary move to Texas.

Finally, Ben Fong-Torres landed the job of his dreams, saying, “So it was a choice of Rolling Stone versus [working at] a phone company…. DUH!!!” He was hired as proofreader and was the first editorial employee to last more than a couple of weeks at the magazine. His contribution was huge (and that’s an understatement). I really like director Suzanne Joe Kai’s blending the audio and video footage of Fong-Torres’ interviews with such musicians as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, and Quincy Jones. Fong-Torres describes an “accidental” encounter with Jim Morrison; later in the film, he reminds Elton John at a show that it’s been 45 years since they met.

Partly fortuitous with the timing, Fong-Torres was also a serious writer who was laid back enough to get musicians to confide in him. When Marvin Gaye asked him point blank how much he was going to print of their conservation, Fong-Torres told him: “Everything.”

If you love music at all: old music, new music, rock music, you’re going to love this! This documentary really condenses the life of one man into 100 minutes, although director Suzanne Joe Kai said in the Tribeca Q&A that she has at least 15 hours of edited footage! Fong-Torres regretted not interviewing Elvis, Sinatra, and Prince in their lifetimes. He also expressed interest in interviewing Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga, so let’s hope that happens at some point!

Rating: 8/10

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