January 27, 2020  (Web Review)

Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don't Know Me

(2019) 106 min. DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $24.99. MVD Entertainment Group (avail. from most distributors).

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

BBC documentary filmmaker Olivia Lichtenstein pays tribute in rise-fall-rise fashion to Theodore “Teddy” Pendergrass (1950-2010), whose career as a musical sex symbol was cruelly interrupted by a 1982 car crash that left him paralyzed. Although Pendergrass overcame despair and suicide plans (thanks to unorthodox treatment from quadriplegic therapist Dr. Dan Gottlieb) to go on to record again, his legacy remains somewhat muted today. There was no shortage of other drama in Pendergrass’s life, growing up in the rough Philadelphia ghettoes and rising to prominence in the Blue Notes (with discord over who was the group’s frontman, Pendergrass or Harold Melvin). As a solo artist, he had a beautiful agent, Taaz Lang, whose unsolved “Black Mafia” shooting death left accusing fingers pointing at Teddy. His concerts, aimed at infatuated females, prompted Fatal Attraction-type behavior, and there were even rumors that someone might have sabotaged his automobile. One heroic figure here is agent/manager Shep Gordon, an equal of Teddy’s in drugs and womanizing, who stayed by the injured Pendergrass when the rest of the music industry wrote the star off. Infused with great Philly soul music and R&B, the film features archival interviews of Pendergrass coupled with testimonials from interviewees including Questlove, Valerie Simpson, Leon Huff, and Kenny Gamble. Extras include deleted scenes (one with allegations of members of the Blue Notes trying to poison each other!). Highly recommended. Aud: C, P. (C. Cassady)