LIKE A ROLLING STONE: THE LIFE & TIMES OF BEN FONG-TORRES -- A Rock Doc for A Special Type of Rockstar
Review by Sean Boelman
Former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres is such an influential figure in the world of rock journalism that he was a character in the beloved film Almost Famous, but there is so much more to his life than that. The documentary Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres does an excellent job of paying tribute to his extraordinary accomplishments.
The movie follows Ben Fong-Torres from his childhood as the son of Chinese immigrants to becoming one of the most influential music journalists in the history of the industry. Of course, as is the case with any biographical documentary like this, there is more than a bit of self-indulgence going on, but in this case, it absolutely feels earned.
Music fans, especially those who love the music of the ‘70s and ‘80s will find themselves fascinated by hearing about Fong-Torres’s experiences of interviewing and working with some of the greatest performers of all time. It’s worth watching just to hear some of the crazy behind-the-scenes stories that Fong-Torres gets to share.
The single greatest tool that director Suzanne Kai had at her disposal in order to get the audience to appreciate the influence that Fong-Torres had is interviews with well-known musicians who affirm that Fong-Torres was a master at what he did. A portion of the film in which Fong-Torres attends an Elton John concert backstage will sell audiences on his brilliance if they weren’t sold already.
That said, there is another level to the movie, and that explores Fong-Torres’s experience as a Chinese-American. There is a portion of the film which discusses the obstacles that Fong-Torres had to overcome with his culture in order to be successful, both in his career and his personal life, and these are absolutely moving.
This definitely feels like more than the average biography profiling its subject. In addition to being about Fong-Torres’s life, it is also a celebration of writing about music and music as a whole. The way that journalists report on the beat has changed a lot since Fong-Torres’s time at Rolling Stone, and it is interesting to compare them.
What is interesting about Kai’s approach to telling this story is that she fashions it as if it is a standard rock doc even though Fong-Torres was not known for being a musician. But the argument that seems to be made is that Fong-Torres was a rockstar in his own way, and the form of the movie supports that.
Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres is a documentary that music fans will definitely want to seek out. Suzanne Koi found a story in the most obvious place to look that somehow still isn’t explored, and it’s a wholly entertaining watch.
Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres is currently seeking distribution.