Editor’s Note: The arts and entertainment department is adjusting its grading scale from a letter-grade system to a numeric score out of 5. This change is intended to increase accuracy and consistency between reviews.
“Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall” tells the story of performer, creator and YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, who in June 2016 released “Straight Outta Oz,” a visual concept album that maps Hall’s personal life — including his struggles as a gay African American man — onto the narrative of “The Wizard of Oz.” The documentary, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright, focuses in on the creation of “Straight Outta Oz” and the process of developing it for a summer tour.
In a single word, “Behind the Curtain” can be described as colorful. Nearly every frame contains within it a dazzling array of blues, golds, greens and pinks assembled in celebration of Hall’s larger-than-life personality. The emotions evoked by the visuals couple in synchronicity with the ever-present musical accompaniment, which ranges in tone from explosively jubilant to pensively solemn. This sensory extravaganza contributes to the audience’s understanding of who precisely Hall is, and though the documentary lacks a sense of in-depth interview content, there is a tremendous amount of information that is communicated visually.
In the process of exploring Hall’s character, Wright confronts issues that are both deeply personal to Hall’s upbringing and universally relevant to people’s approaches to dealing with adversity. After sitting through an admittedly hazy, somewhat directionless first act, the audience eventually encounters Hall’s grappling to meet the expectations placed on him — as a performer, son and, most significantly, role model.
At the precise moment we are introduced to Hall’s tumultuous relationship with his mother, we see a performance of “Straight Outta Oz” maternal anthem “Lions and Tigers and Bears.” When Hall’s story collides with the Pulse shooting in Orlando or the stabbing on a train in Portland, we inevitably recall featured vocalist Jordin Sparks’ rendition of the earnest ballad “Water Guns.” These connections may feel at times heavy-handed, but are never contrived and always poignant.
Wright spins narrative parallels into a web that comprises her film’s emotional core, and the result is a dynamic portrait of a uniquely creative visionary, one who is willing to lay his heart on the table for others to take comfort in. Hall’s life is absolutely nonstop, so it is no surprise that a documentary about his life is at times a blurry one. Luckily, it benefits immensely from the structure Wright imbues it with.
Shannon O’Hara is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].