This documentary about the blues musician Buddy Guy is a very good film rather than a great one. But any chance to spend nearly two hours in the company of Buddy Guy is an opportunity not to be missed.
Directed by Jim Farrell, “The Torch” takes an unusual course. It’s as much about Guy’s sense of mission as his stunning musicianship. It starts with Guy on acoustic guitar singing how his mother identified him as a bluesman when he was only 2 years old. Then we are at Guy’s Chicago nightclub, Legends, and follow a young man into the club. He seems to be a fan, but he is there to play. He is Quinn Sullivan, a youthful protege of Guy. He is one of the many musicians to whom Guy passes the torch of the film title.
Guy tells stories of his early years in Louisiana and Chicago. Nearly starving while trying to find work, he is introduced to singer-songwriter Muddy Waters, who gives him a ride around town, with Waters offering Guy bread and salami as they drive. When he realizes that he is going to play with one of his heroes, Guy’s hunger seems to disappear.
Then there are the images of Sullivan’s white, middle-class upbringing. The guitarist has real talent, but may be regarded by some as lacking in the blues-as-lived experience department, as it is a black musical tradition. This does not concern Guy, who is black; and race is never mentioned verbally. Instead, as on-screen interviews with musicians like Carlos Santana, Joe Bonamassa and others underline, it comes down to what you give to the music. Pictured here in pre-pandemic performances, Guy, who is in his 80s, still gives it his all, blending soul and virtuosity with an outrageous showmanship.
Not judged. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. In theaters and for rent or sale on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV providers.