“I’m too real for that shit,” D’Angelo declares.
He’s talking about separating his private self from the public one. Michael Archer from D’Angelo. Grappling with becoming a superstar, a sex symbol, and an acclaimed musician all at once, while feeling like his art became the collateral damage of that attention.
The quote comes from a scene in Devil’s Pie: D’Angelo, the forthcoming documentary directed by Dutch filmmaker Carine Bijlsma, which premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York on Saturday (April 27). In it, D’Angelo is parsing the once blurred parameters of his personal and professional persona. He isn’t so much making a triumphant return to the scene, but inching his way closer to its truth. The documentary attempts to capture this, as it chronicles the 14-year hiatus that marked the period between his disappearance, after the release of Voodoo in 2000, and his resurgence. In 2014, D’Angelo and the Vanguard released Black Messiah and, to both critics’ and fans’ acclaim, the album doubled as the Second Coming of one.
The mystical musician made his return. Then disappeared again. The documentary covers that interim — from the substance abuse to the arrest, the traumatic car accident, and the deaths of loved ones — amidst moments on and off stage during his 2015 The Second Coming Tour. There are rare interviews with him, close collaborators like Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson from The Roots, other famous friends like Dave Chappelle, management, and archival footage from his life before the limelight. Devil’s Pie didn’t miss the mark, but a key piece to the D’Angelo puzzle still felt palpably missing.
The film is more of a portrait than an unveiling, the latter being what most would probably prefer to see of the aloof Grammy Award-winner. Here, he doesn’t appear to be at his most vulnerable, but the doc subtly asserts that we may never see him in that way. In the past, D’Angelo had been famous long enough to foster familiarity and discomfort under a lens. His departure is reminiscent of that of his peer Lauryn Hill, who also opted out of fame at the height of hers. Since his departure, return, and retreat, there has been a public vested interested in him that’s remained constant.
When a celebrity dies his or her’s death sparks a newfound interest. But D’Angelo cheated death and lived to not talk about it.
Recently, several celebrity documentaries present the balanced tightrope walk between access and discretion, like HBO’s forthcoming Muhammad Ali doc, What’s My Name — which also premiered at Tribeca Film Festival — and Beyoncé’s Netflix Coachella concert doc Homecoming. Devil’s Pie opts for the open-window-view of the prolific artist’s private life — without the storytelling to string together the bits and pieces viewers are allowed to see.
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