Review by Sean Boelman
When thinking of Latin American music legends, there are few as ubiquitous as Jose Feliciano. His life story gets the documentary treatment in Jose Feliciano — Behind This Guitar, a film that works well both as an exploration of his musical career and the obstacles that he overcame in his life.
The movie chronicles the career of Jose Feliciano, as he became one of the most significant Latin crossover artists in all of music history. Feliciano is one of a select group of musicians whose work is so prominent in global pop culture that it would be hard to find someone who doesn’t know Feliciano, or at least a few of his songs.
For music fans, this film is sure to be a delight because it explores Feliciano’s iconic sound in-depth. Interviews with Feliciano, his peers, and other experts in the music industry discuss how Feliciano is one of the rare artists who was truly able to break out into the global mainstream with an unmistakably Latin-inspired sound.
But Feliciano’s music didn’t happen in a vacuum. The movie does a great job of placing his work in the context of the genres of both Latin music and rock and roll, but without doing so in an overly technical way. And furthermore, the film talks about Feliciano’s blindness and how it is a part of his identity.
That said, the single best portion of the movie discusses the backlash that Feliciano received as a result of his rendition of the National Anthem. It’s an interesting exploration of the cultural identity we have as Americans, and the flaws and dangers of this excessively patriotic system that we have.
All of these things come together to create a portrait of Feliciano that feels much more intimate than most music documentaries. Typically, this genre of documentary is satisfied with being a fluffy biography, but that is not the case here. This is an in-depth, humanizing way of telling its subject’s life.
The film is definitely very conventional in a technical sense, but it is effective nonetheless. The movie uses a combination of interviews, performance footage, and archive materials to convey its story. But the quality of the content in the interviews with Feliciano himself is what really makes this film something special.
Jose Feliciano — Behind This Guitar is a must-see documentary for any fans of the genre. Although it may not be the flashiest movie in terms of form, the depth with which it explores Feliciano’s career and life makes it worth the watch.
Jose Feliciano — Behind This Guitar is now screening at the 2022 Miami Film Festival, which runs March 4-13.