Betty Davis changed the landscape of music in America, but more incredibly, Betty Davis opened up a new field and began a revolution for female artists. Betty Davis gifted a new form of creativity, personality & honesty to all the female artists who followed her. To quote her ex-husband Miles Davis, she was “Madonna before Madonna, Prince before Prince”. Then, she stopped.
She disappeared from music. Betty – They Say I’m Different is a documentary released in 2017 by filmmaker Phil Cox that uses Betty’s own stories to give an insight into not only her tremendous contribution to music, but also why a ground breaking artist chose to turn her back on the industry.
Betty – They Say I’m Different channels the unique personality of Betty Davis throughout. There’s a weird atmospheric buzz about the film. Phil Cox’s odd combination of interview, animation and countless images of birds and flowers only begins to make sense as you get about halfway through the documentary.
Until we hear more of Betty’s own testimony and unique story about the crow that took her on her musical pathway, a lot of it is confusing and at times, annoying. Even when it becomes clear what the usage is for scenes appear repetitive and senseless, which for a 53 minute feature is usually quite difficult.
The doc could have helped by at least in some way suggesting earlier that the strange narration is actually Betty herself, because at first I didn’t realise. Even on the second viewing, which made it seem nonsensical and pointless. For the casual viewer with little understanding Betty – They Say I’m Different might be a huge turn-off in the first ten minutes. I’d argue it’s worth pushing through.
The only mystery and confusion Betty – They Say I’m Different is successful in maintaining is that of Betty Davis herself. It’s still unexplained why she disappeared, and Betty – They Say I’m Different is predominantly a series of close friends trying to answer the riddle unsuccessfully. This mystery does lead however to one very awkward moment where there appears to be building to a reconnection as her old band mates speak to her on her phone.
Yet it actually leads unceremoniously to a big disappointment where she rejects them (albeit incredibly politely) and they end up performing without her.
This disappointment reminded me of Noah Baumach’s film While We’re Young starring Adam Driver, Naomi Watts & Ben Stiller which debates the use of creative licence vs strict truth in documentary film. Betty – They Say I’m Different has very much taken the Ben Stiller stance and battled for truth and honesty by including the build-up and the disappointment regardless. They didn’t sugar coat the rejection for a better ending, which I appreciate as a film lover.
Overall, Betty – They Say I’m Different just falls flat. It’s confusing and slow despite its length. I loved learning about Betty, but I don’t think Betty – They Say I’m Different is going to impress or maintain the attention of the casual viewer. Music lovers might go mad for a chance to learn more about arguably the most influential female artist to have graced the airwaves, but it doesn’t quite hit the high notes enough times to convince most.
You can watch the trailer for Betty – They Say I’m Different below.
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