The Weird World Of Blowfly at times recalls The Wrestler, only instead of schlepping his aging body from city to city to don outrageous costumes and wrestle, 69-year-old soul-music legend Clarence Reid schleps his hunched-over frame to gigs where he performs X-rated parodies and scatological ditties as incorrigible proto-hip-hopper Blowfly. Reid generously gives himself credit for inventing hip-hop with pioneering tracks like “Rap Dirty,” but as the film opens, he’s just barely scraping by with the help of fan/drummer/manager Tom Bowker. He’s living from paycheck to paycheck while the publishing rights to songs he wrote in the 1960s and 1970s and sold for next to nothing in a time of weakness make millions for others.
Jonathan Furmanski’s film follows Reid and Bowker as they tour half-empty bars and dives before scoring a sweet gig opening for the popular German band Die Ärzte, a punk-rock group with a deep appreciation for Reid’s groundbreaking, transgressive, controversial early work. For better or worse, Bowker has tied his professional and personal fortunes to a bitter old man who loudly broadcasts his contempt for humanity and especially a drummer/manager/handler he resents and relies upon in equal measure. Bowker sees a collaboration with eccentric younger musician Otto von Schirach as a way to introduce Blowfly to a new audience and revitalize his career, but Reid remains stuck in his ways, and deeply suspicious of Bowker and his motives.
Like the superb docs on the Ramones (End Of The Century), Flaming Lips (The Fearless Freaks), and A Tribe Called Quest (Beats Rhymes & Life), The Weird World Of Blowfly belongs to a curious subsection of the documentary world devoted to films about the despair and deep dysfunction behind joyous music. Reid is a profoundly gifted musician, but there’s a strange joylessness to his ribald performances: He’s just doing a job that no longer seems to provide him much satisfaction. Furmanski’s melancholy, involving documentary ultimately registers as a haunting character study about the sad man behind the filthy music.