Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives – Review

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Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives hones in so much on the highlights of Davis’ career that it feels like a lifetime achievement award presentation.


Director(s) Chris Perkel
Screenplay By N/A
Date Released 4/19/2017
Genre(s) Documentary
Who Is This For?
  • Fans Of Pop Music
  • Music Historians
Where To Buy, Rent, or Stream? Netflix
Noted Cast
Himself Clive Davis
Herself Whitney Houston
Herself Nicole David

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Plot Summary/ Review (with Spoilers)

From the 1960s to modern times, Clive Davis has had an unfathomable hand in crafting the greatest songs, singers, and careers in music. His journey started with being a Jewish kid from New York who, when a sophomore in college, lost both his parents suddenly. This event shook him to his core and is perhaps the driving force behind his work ethic and desire to only have his name associated with the best. For when life is taken from you so suddenly, it makes every moment all the more dear.

So we follow Clive as he goes from Columbia Records to starting Arista, then J. Records, and learning of the reason he even left Columbia in the first place. Which, of course, leads to nearly every major name in the industry, at least those introduced in the mid to early 2000s back to the 60s, praising Davis either as a friend, peer, or even rival.

However, as for the man who, within the last decade, revealed he was bi-sexual? The person who had two failed marriages? That part of Clive Davis is mentioned in passing, but the personal is left for his book. Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives focuses on the mogul and only out of obligation mentions any failures Davis was forced to deal with.

1Collected Quote(s) or .Gifs

I think every person who is really, really successful has a certain amount of fear, which keeps them going.
— Nicole David

2Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. When did Clive Davis start his Pre-Grammy parties and why?

3Highlights

The Journey

One of the main things this documentary teaches you is that you have to take opportunities as they come, fight back when you know something isn’t right, be it for you or someone else, and never think you are untouchable. Between death, being fired, even when at the top of his game, Davis’ life is a real example that talent, experience, even an undeniable track record, it won’t protect you. So you have to keep hustling.

However, what makes Davis different from many is that we’re reminded that, as much success as he had, and how his artist felt loved and attended to, he tried to have a family. With two divorces, not gone into, it isn’t clear how good of a husband he was, or if his kids ever felt a certain way about sharing him, but you are told he made an effort beyond most in his position.

Thus giving you what feels like a blueprint for on top of everything mentioned above, it should also be noted Davis wasn’t selfish. Granted, despite this feeling more like a PR piece than a warts and all documentary, Davis’ charitable work isn’t noted, but you do see the kind of help people really need – opportunity. For whether it is music acts who got looked, over because of their look or sound, or financing the labels which allowed LA Reid, Babyface, and P. Diddy to stop their careers, and put others on, you can find some reason to forgive this being an overwhelming positive 2 hours.

4Criticism

Unlike The Defiant Ones, This Is All Highs & Very Little Lows

With that said, as much as you can learn from Davis being fired, his parents’ death, or even the affect Whitney Houston’s death had on him, the avoidance of professional and personal failures is a looming shadow. Especially since failed artists are rushed through, taking up only a handful of scenes, so all of Davis’ great accomplishments can be noted.

Which isn’t to say I was seeking a hit piece, but taking note of Jimmy Iovine’s The Defiant Ones, featuring Dr. Dre, it would have been nice to hear more about some of Davis’ struggles. For what’s the point of a documentary this long if you are going to keep so much to the chest? His oust from Columbia records may have been devastating, but it is sped through so quickly that you barely feel like that could have been the end of his career – no matter what anyone says.

Then, with the quick glossing over of his failed marriages, before noting his bi-sexuality, it makes you wonder what was going on in his personal life? Did he have affairs with men? The closest thing to a relationship, or sexual encounter, we hear about is him rejecting Janis Joplin. Outside of that, you’d think all the kids who speak on the program were adopted.

Hence why this documentary feels more like a press release for an honorary award than a documentary so that you can either get to know Davis or know something beyond general knowledge.

5On The Fence

After A Certain Point, It Became All About Whitney

While Whitney is one of the greatest artists that have ever lived, it seems strange how much she takes over the last half hour of the documentary. Especially since it focuses on her downfall. It crafts what feels like a rebuttal to the idea Davis only cared about Whitney for money and his association for her greatness. As if he was called out once and is using this doc to prove he cared, he once tried, and was as devasted as anyone – even if he did continue a party the same evening she died.

But you take from that what you will.

We Don’t Get To Learn About The Pre-Grammy Party At All

Speaking of that Grammy party, it is mentioned multiple times as a big thing, and likely we see many performances from the event. However, we are never told when it started, why, and how it became a tradition. Which is a bit frustrating since it is something strongly associated with Davis yet, like his personal life, the topic is treated as something so casual that you almost question if the mention is out of obligation than anything else.

We’re of the opinion that, unless you want to get real, mention and dig into the darkness and most misunderstood parts of your life, as much as your accomplishments, you are not ready for a documentary like this or a biopic. For it really does a disservice to the viewers, and people who were there for the highs and lows, when something like this is released. Because, ultimately, who is this made for?

Is this something to pull from so, in the future, when lifetime achievement awards are done, people can refer to a past statement? Was this made just because of a milestone in the industry or age? Don’t get me wrong, this is informative, but it often leaves you feeling the documentary barely focused on the work and was all about the glory. Leaving you almost feeling like you spent two hours with a narcissist.

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