Documentary Releases: Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? (2019) - Reviewed

Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons, Jr. was a towering legend in music for his saxophonist work in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band as well as guest musical contributions to fellow musicians including Jackson Browne and Aretha Franklin before tragically leaving this world, widow and four children behind in 2011, only at the age of 69.  He didn’t leave, however, before spending his final years on a soul-searching journey that landed him alongside friend and filmmaker Nick Mead and took him to the other side of the world to China on a spiritual odyssey to enlightenment.  

Eight years after ‘The Big Man’s death, Mead now presents this biographical film/self-portrait of sorts, Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am?  Inspired by an offhand comment a passerby made in China during a moment where Clemons’ photographer Mead films him playing the saxophone against the scenic backdrop of the Great Wall, Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? seeks to try and answer that most mysterious of life’s questions. 

Partially a rock documentary chronicling the life of Clarence Clemons’ time with Bruce Springsteen and the road life, partially a self-reflexive look into the mirror during a time Clemons reached his own personal crossroads, it’s a documentary film in which the gifted musical artist ponders his place in the world searching for a sense of purpose.  Though his moments on stage with the E Street Band are indeed unforgettable, it’s the quieter moments of Clemons examining his own stage in life that resonate the deepest. 

Interspersed with both original and archival interviews including snippets from his many concert performances in and out of the E Street Band, Who Do I Think I Am? doesn’t just leave you with a well-rounded portrait of the man, you also come away feeling as though you’ve made a friend.  Told through various recollections of his colleagues, friends and family, you come to know the heart and soul of the E Street Band as well as come away feeling elated to have known one of American music’s finest creative artists and the indelible mark he left behind on music history.

--Andrew Kotwicki