Sigma Kids, 2018.
Directed by Anthony Crupi.
Featuring Patti Brett, Marla Kanevsky, Carlos Alomar, and David Bowie.
A documentary about David Bowie’s time in Philadelphia and the fans who waited for him outside Sigma Sound Studios.
Young Americans wasn’t the first album David Bowie recorded after breaking with the Spiders from Mars (that was Diamond Dogs), but it was the first where he significantly changed his sound. No one knew how people would respond to it. Good or bad, this album was going to change Bowie’s career, but that’s not what brought the Sigma Kids to Sigma Studios everyday he was there. Bowie could’ve been working on an album of little consequence (if he ever made one of those) and the loyalty of his Philadelphia fans would’ve been the same. Its why he invited a group inside, to listen to a rough cut of the album, and hear their thoughts and criticisms.
Bowie wanted to show his appreciation for them, but he also needed an outsider’s perspective on his music, to know whether it was working, and in a way director, Anthony Crupi, offers a similar experience for fans in The Sigma Kids – an outsiders perspective on them, as the subjects of this documentary. Carlos Alomar, who played guitar on Young Americans, puts it best:
“And that passion is alive and well and living right now, not only in me, but in them, their children, hopefully their children’s children… That’s the nature of why sometimes we have to honor the fanatics as well as the artists that they make.”
Being a fan today is probably more accepted, than it was in 1974 (and certainly being a Bowie fan has changed since Frank Rizzo was the mayor of Philadelphia), but it’s still something to hear a musican speak of their fans so eloquently, when finding fault can be more common.
Representing the Sigma Kids are Patti Brett (who owns Doobies Bar in Philadelphia) and Marla Kanevsky and it’s a joy to bask and share in their true love for David Bowie. A fun scene cuts back and forth between their different accounts of the day they met at the Tower Theater.
When you’re in the moment, as a fan, the circumstances are less important than the chance to be near your idol. The Sigma Kids provides some great context to the when and where of Young Americans‘ production. No subjects are tiptoed around and the film doesn’t blindly flatter or lean on Bowie’s songs. That’s not to say The Sigma Kids ever criticizes Bowie, but it also doesn’t look away from how the Sigma musicians wouldn’t play on Bowie’s album, because he was a white Brit looking to make money on black R&B, or how Alomar was initially offered a sad salary (Jon Brewer’s documentary, Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, would make a good double billing with this film).
There’s one, slightly dry section, yet it’s born of a good idea, to have local radio DJs and others explain what the “Philadelphia sound” is. I don’t feel like I would be able to define it, or id a song with that sound, but The Sigma Kids is asking the right questions.
For news on future screenings, be sure to ‘Like’ the film’s Facebook page.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★