Last night, the Tribeca Film Festival kicked off with the world premiere of the documentary Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, which is based on the 2013 book The Soundtrack of My Life, written by Clive Davis and Anthony DeCurtis. Directed and edited by Chris Perkel, the film is a fascinating dive into an unlikely force in the entertainment industry: a man who had no musical talent but was gifted at finding superstars, the legendary Clive Davis. From Miles Davis to Janis Joplin to The Notorious B.I.G. to Whitney Houston, if you love music, you will love this documentary.
In many ways, The Soundtrack of Our Lives isn’t about Clive Davis. Yes, the doc offers some background into his life. He lost both parents at a young age. He studied law and eventually ended up at CBS/Columbia. While there is brief mention of corporate scandals, his two marriages and coming out as bisexual, the film vastly focuses on his incredible career. The lack of exploration of Clive’s personal life isn’t a let down; the film is truly about the music. Within the first 15 minutes, the doc goes right into his big break, discovering blues and rock singer Janis Joplin (during the opening credits, Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” played, which immediately had the audience singing).
There are hilarious and emotional stories about Miles Davis, Dionne Warwick, Diddy, Kenny G, L.A. Reid, Babyface and more. Hearing Clive talk about cultivating an artist or finding a hit song is like watching a master class (in one scene, he plays an original demo of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and explained how he morphed the song into a No. 1 hit for Whitney, garnering several wows from the audience). This is a gift Mr. Davis mastered. He studied music like he studied law, which is a huge lesson for anyone with a passion — hone your craft.
The most emotional part of the doc is his relationship with the legendary Whitney Houston, which is equal parts heartbreaking and beautiful. With honesty and respect, Davis opens up about his relationship with Whitney and her tragic death at the Beverly Hills Hilton on February 11, 2012, just hours before his famous Grammy party. The film closes with Whitney singing a live version of “Greatest Love of All,” which had the audience in tears.
Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives highlights an era of the music industry that has now vanished. Today, artists are rarely cultivated. They need millions of social media followers before they land a record deal. Artists are expected to have a smash hit with their debut single. No one over 30 can get a hit song (Clive revitalized Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick’s careers when they were well into their 40s).The artists of today are supposed to be ready made for consumption — regardless of their talent. This could be why we haven’t seen a star like Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin or The Notorious B.I.G. in over a decade. Clive didn’t just have a vision for a hit song, he had a vision for cultural movements that impacted the world. While watching the documentary, you can’t help but reflect on your own life as you see how Davis helped create the soundtrack.