JO JO DANCER, YOUR LIFE IS CALLING
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Richard Pryor
Director: Richard Pryor
Audio: English Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2002
“Jo, I can’t change anything.
But I can take you through so that you can see it.”
It is clear to about everyone in the human population that
Richard Pryor has long been the funniest man alive, and with every success comes
pitfalls of different sorts. Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling,
Pryor’s first stab at directing an actual feature film (he also directed his
concert movie, Richard Pryor: Here and Now), is a unique journey into the
life of a fictional comedian that is somewhat based on Pryor himself. He has
stated that the movie is not his biography, though many of the events in
the movie will no doubt resemble certain things that the comedian has
experienced, most notably his near death experience following a drug-related
accident. Whether based on truth or not, this is certainly a noble movie
experience nonetheless, with a journey that is well worth the ride.
The film opens with the title character, played by Pryor,
rushed in a gurney into a hospital emergency room. As doctors begin to observe
his condition, Jo Jo’s alter ego pulls himself out of his body, looks down at
what’s become of him, and says to it, “Jo Jo, what have you done to us this
time?” What then follows, as the alter ego exits the hospital is a journey
through Jo Jo’s life for a look at the events in his life that led up to his
current condition. It serves a much useful purpose, which is for Jo Jo to accept
a will to survive and live again, the memories must remain and never die.
We get a glimpse of his life from his days as a young boy
growing up in Ohio. He lives with his grandmother, who runs a whorehouse, which
leads induces early knowledge of sex and booze. Later, when his mother has
married again, tension is developed when he declares his future is to become a
nightclub comedian and nothing more. That infuriates the mother’s husband, who
orders Jo Jo out of the house. Soon enough, he does find himself at a local
club, surprisingly turning an embarrassing first performance into one to
remember as he flawlessly impersonates a baby being born. During the nightclub
portion of his life, Jo Jo encounters numerous characters, including a stripper
named Satin Doll (Paula Kelly), who is the one responsible for getting Jo Jo his
first gig. There’s also the stuttering, boozy Arturo (Art Evans) and veteran
trouper Johnny Barnett (Billy Eckstine). There’s a standout moment when Jo,
fearing that he won’t receive any payment for performing, whips out an obvious
starter pistol and threatens his boss for some pay.
Following those scenes are more characters who enter Jo
Jo’s life, mainly the frequent amount of women who entered his life. He soon
finds himself with no less than four wives as a result of the constant touring
as well as all of the power and money that he has acquired, not to mention an
addictive access to drugs, which soon enough take control. In the end, we do see
how Jo Jo got into his current position in the hospital, which is quite
heartbreaking to witness even as the alter ego attempts to stop Jo Jo from
causing it to happen.
Anyone who cherishes to the genius of Richard Pryor should owe it to themselves to view this funny, and deeply moving biopic. What has become a remarkable career in the realm of comedic entertainment has resulted in a much poignant film.
Columbia Tri Star has not been issuing many state of the art transfers with most of their early catalogue titles recently, but my guess is that it has simply been hard to transfer the washed out film stock to the digital format, but every once in a while, it will happen. The picture quality of Jo Jo Dancer couldn’t quite achieve the status of a knockout presentation, with the image turning up mostly soft and never too sharp. Instances of grain will pop up every now and then, in addition. One primary reason for this was CTS’ decision to issue the disc in a double sided format, including both the anamorphic widescreen version, and the full screen version as well.
This Mono track may rank
as one of the best ones to date, but then again, its only mono. Columbia Tri
Star issues a serviceable Dolby Mono track for a film mostly made by dialogue,
but does include some nice sound quality with the soundtrack, particularly the
opening and closing theme song by Chaka Kahn, and most definitely the poignant
montage scene backed up by Marvin Gaye’s classic, What’s Going On. All in
all, a bit of nothing is turned in to a bit of something.
Features (zero stars)
Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling is a most intriguing recount of events based on the life of perhaps our most beloved comedic entertainer, and a remarkable journey of a film as well.