‘Suzi Q’ Documentary Celebrates an Underappreciated Rock Icon

A black and white photo of rock star Suzi Quatro in the 1970s. The image is a mid close up that sees Suzi looking directly at the camera, an almost mullet style hairdo and wearing an open black leather jumpsuit adorned with chains round her neck. She stands with her hands on her hips.
Utopia

Directed by Aussie Liam Firmager, Suzi Q tells the story of Suzi Quatro’s rise to fame and how she inspired a generation of women rock stars, including Debbie Harry (Blondie), Donita Sparks (L7), Joan Jett and Cherie Currie (The Runaways)—all of whom appear in the documentary. Back in the 70s, Suzi was the first woman bass player to become a rock star and it all started when, at five-years-old, she saw Elvis Presley perform on television. “I am going to do that” she said, and fortunately no one told her that she couldn’t. Suzi had the rock ‘n’ roll spirit from a young age and the charisma and determination to achieve her goal. 

Coming from a musical family, Suzi’s older sister Patti formed an all-female garage band called The Pleasure Seeker, which Suzi and their sisters, Nancy and Arlene, joined. Living in Detroit, the hard rock capital, people noticed that these Catholic girls had an edge to them. “They couldn’t get the Detroit outta them” Alice Cooper says. The Pleasure Seekers enjoyed brief success in the burgeoning music scene, but went in a new direction musically in the late 60s, changing their name to Cradle. Suzi was eventually spotted by music producer Mickie Most, who flew her out to London to be a rock star.

An older Suzi Quatro with grown out blonde hair wearing a leather jacket plays her bass guitar on a stage. This is a photograph from a live performance.
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Suzi burst onto the scene in 1973 and she redefined the role and image of women in rock ‘n’ roll. Suzi Q explores how her image, voice and sound all came together—with music producer Mike Chapman finding a sound that worked for her, and Suzi pushing to wear leather (her iconic black catsuit was inspired by Jane Fonda’s wardrobe in Barbarella). Throughout the documentary Suzi’s big hits—such as ‘Can the Can,’ ‘48 Crash’ and ‘Devil Gate Drive’—explode onto the screen and prove, or remind us, just how powerful she was.  

The archive footage of the five-foot icon playing an enormous bass, which Harry says she made “look like a feather,” are enough to see why Suzi influenced a generation of female rock stars. Not many people had seen a woman with an instrument in a band, and many didn’t realise it was even a viable option for them. But Suzi’s energy was empowering; she was a natural beauty who wasn’t into the sex and drugs element of rock ‘n’ roll, and her wild, bad girl image was kept on stage. In her personal life, she was quiet and wanted “normal” things like to be a mother, which interviews from past and present show us. Len Tuckey, Suzi’s ex-husband/bandmate, says: “She had the audacity to play the bass, and play it very bloody well, she had the audacity to sing rock ‘n’ roll, and do it very well, and she also had the audacity to wear leather and kick ass.” Suzi had the audacity to infiltrate a male-orientated industry and make it her own. 

An older Suzi Quatro is pictured her on stage shaking her bass guitar in the air. Her eyes are shut and mouth open in exaltation. She has shoulder length blonde hair and wears a leather jacket. Her bass guitar is black.
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For everything she achieved, Suzi did in a way that was authentic to her—she was an innovator, as Cooper says—but she remains massively underappreciated. Jett, who coyly admits she might have based her entire image on Suzi, says Suzi should be much more discussed. Having been big in the UK, Europe and Australia, Suzi never made it big in the USA, which explains the lack of global admiration today, and also why she cannot be found in the Rock Hall of Fame. Personally, I had heard of her name before, but I knew little about Suzi before watching this documentary—yet I knew everyone that she went on to influence. Suzi is a vital part of the music industry and this documentary has the receipts to prove it. It intersperses concert footage and music videos with old and new interviews with Suzi and various other people in her life. 

Suzi Q has the daggy style – Aussie slang for scruffy – you see in most Australian films (especially their docs), but its simple and linear narrative are easy to digest—as is Suzi’s story, which she has authority over. The documentary is very much a celebration of Suzi’s legacy and it makes a very valid case for why we should care about her. Unfortunately, it glosses over some of the harder topics, such as how Suzi’s move to London devastated the Quatro family. Her sisters, who appear in interviews, show how bitter they still are, and Suzi shares a cassette tape her dad sent her of him egging their family on to say negative things about Suzi’s talent and potential. There is much left unsaid in the tension that remains, and the sexual harassment and misognyny Suzi suffered at the height of her fame are also glossed over. 

Suzi Q is an enjoyable by-the-books look at Suzi’s trailblazing career. She did it all—rock star, musician, songwriter, author, playwright, actress and poet. Some of her poems even serve as subtle transitions that break the documentary into sections, further displaying another layer to Suzi’s creative and engaging personality. Suzi Q is very inspiring and is well-suited to fans of hers, music history lovers and those who grew up in the 70s. It achieves in providing a fraction of the recognition that the icon deserves. Suzi had a dream as a young girl in Detroit and she is still out there living that dream today at age 70. Her most recent album, ‘No Control,’ was released in 2019 and it proves that she has still got it. 

Utopia Distribution are hosting a virtual event on July 1st featuring the film and an exclusive Q&A featuring Suzi Quatro and a special guest. Buy your tickets here. The film will be available on VOD from July 3rd.

by Toni Stanger

Toni Stanger is a film and screenwriting graduate with a passion for cats, horror films and middle-aged actresses. Her favourite films include Gone Girl, Heathers, Scream and Excision. You can find her on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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