Review by Sean Boelman
There are plenty of documentaries about the legendary jazz musicians of our day, especially the iconic blues guitarist Buddy Guy. Those worried that The Torch might be just another biography with the same story that music fans know will be surprised to see that this has one of the more interesting angles that any music doc has taken in recent memory.
Although the film is about Buddy Guy, it is more about the relationship between Guy and his protege Quinn Sullivan, a musical prodigy whose talents Guy discovered and fostered. With this, the movie becomes less about Guy himself and more about the process of passing down wisdom to the next generation of talent, hence the title.
The film creates some interesting parallelisms between Guy’s mentorship with Sullivan and the guidance that Guy received himself from the legends of the field. It’s an interesting discussion of what it means to keep alive an artform that is in danger of dying out as things change and it becomes less culturally significant.
Admittedly, the movie does start to feel a bit disorganized at times. The emphasis here is obviously on Guy and Sullivan together, but it’s as if the filmmakers kept getting distracted by the fact that they had a blues legend in their hands. The access that they had to Guy is great, but the film does fall back onto convention a few times.
If the viewer doesn’t already have an insane amount of respect for Guy coming in for his musical talents, this documentary will only seal the deal. Seeing him work with Sullivan shows that he is not just a gifted musician, but also just an all-around great guy that wants to make a positive impact on everyone he gets the chance to touch.
The movie does get the audience to respect Sullivan through the use of some pretty extensive performance footage. Putting him up against the legendary Guy would be an issue for most musicians, but Sullivan is talented enough to hold his own. That said, it would have been nice had he been given more of a personality through the film.
Many of the interviews are with Guy’s peers, and they only serve to validate what we already can tell from the performances. It’s almost as if the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience to know that what they are hearing is good, so they hired someone to tell them. This time could have been used much more effectively getting to know Guy and Sullivan more intimately.
The Torch is a must-see music documentary for any fans of blues music, and while it doesn’t always stick to its unique approach, those parts of the movie which do offer interesting insight into this side of the music industry. Jim Farrell has made a hidden gem in this genre.
The Torch is now in theaters and on VOD.