out of Five
Running time: 116
An intuitive and appealing documentary about the life of one of the world’s most recognised Blues musicians, but BB King: The Life of Riley sometimes grows a bit repetitive and its chronological sequence is rather bland.
What’s it all about?
Directed by Jon Brewer, BB King: The Life of Riley documents the life and work of legendary Blues musician, BB King. Known by many as the King of Blues, BB King lived a modest childhood in Mississippi, where he was born in 1925, and later overcame unrelenting racism to become one of the world’s most recognised Blues musicians.
Blending present day and vintage interviews with archival footage and the occasional stylised recreation, BB King: The Life of Riley is narrated by Morgan Freeman and features a string of famous musicians including Keith Richards, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton, who each discuss how BB King influenced their own work.
The long list of famous musicians who discuss BB King and his work provides some fascinating information into the influences of some rock ‘n’ roll greats. The archival footage of BB King touring with the likes of The Rolling Stones in the 1960s and U2 in the 1980s is appealing and it’s great to hear about BB’s mammoth influence on music, including some vintage audio footage of John Lennon wailing about how he wish he could play guitar like BB. Despite the mass praise and worship, BB King remains incredibly humble and grounded and his charisma sucks us in with his tales of his past and great fondness for people, and in particular, women. The documentary occasionally adds a twist on the generic interview, blending old interviews with present day to tell the same story and it’s intuitive to see those who know BB best, including an ex-wife and a cousin-in-law, discuss the musician in personal detail.
BB King: The Life of Riley unfortunately gets off to a very slow start, and doesn’t truly kick in until around the forty-minute mark, when the documentary finally gets to the musical aspect that people are waiting for. Whilst at first incredibly interesting, its heavy reliance on BB’s childhood, of which it discusses every minor, and sometimes irrelevant, facet grows a bit dull and we almost beg for BB’s rich and brassy sound to kick in as a sign that the exciting stuff is about to start. Visually, the documentary is nothing special and it would have been nice if it had shaken things up sequence-wise, as this chronological documentary often gives the sense of familiarity and predictability.
Despite its occasional repetitiveness and slow start, Blues fans will love hearing about the influence BB had on fellow musicians and the archival footage is occasionally pretty spectacular. Recommended.
BB King: The Life of Riley (15)