AKA Doc Pomus: Film Review

Doc Pomus - H 2013
This doc reveals the little-known story of one of pop music's greatest songwriters in highly touching and entertaining fashion.

Peter Miller and Will Hechter's documentary relates the life and career of the legendary songwriter behind such classics as "Save the Last Dance for Me."

We all know and love the songs. “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love, “Viva Las Vegas” and countless others. But too few know the story of their composer, Doc Pomus, which is a situation that the new documentary AKA Doc Pomus corrects in highly effective fashion. Serving as the opening night film for Lincoln Center’s New York Jewish Film Festival, it should enjoy a strong ancillary life after its inevitable theatrical run.

Pomus’ story is as dramatic as any of his songs. Born in Brooklyn as Jerome Felder, he was stricken by polio as a child and forced to wear cumbersome leg braces. That didn’t stop him from becoming a blues singer -- not a musical genre usually performed by white Jews -- under the stage name that would become his for life.

But it was when he later gave up performing and turned exclusively to songwriting that he truly made his mark, working with a variety of partners on some 1,000 songs over the course of a lifetime, many of which became classics.

Conceived by Pomus’ daughter, Sharyn Felder, and directed by Peter Miller and Will Hechter, the documentary serves as a loving tribute that doesn’t shy away from presenting a warts-and-all portrait. But as is made vividly clear, Pomus was a beloved figure who became an elder musical statesman and ubiquitous presence on the New York City live music scene despite being confined to a wheelchair.

The film includes incisive interviews with many of his friends and colleagues, including Dr. John, Lou Reed, Ben E. King, Dion, B.B. King, Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller and Gerry Goffin among others. Also providing testimonials are younger songwriters he befriended and influenced, such as Joan Osborne and Shawn Colvin. Pomus himself is heard from in archival interview footage, and excerpts from his journals are read by Reed.

But the most moving tributes come from friends and family, including his first wife, who tearfully describes how his inability to dance with her at their wedding inspired perhaps his most famous song, “Save the Last Dance for Me.” It’s but one touching anecdote in a film that tells the story of a remarkable life and career in wonderfully entertaining fashion.

New York Jewish Film Festival

Production: Clear Lake Historical Productions

Directors: Peter Miller, Will Hechter

Producers: Will Hechter, Peter Miller, Sharyn Felder

Executive producers: Elise & Alan Mecklinger, Honey & Barry Sherman

Director of photography: Antonio Rossi

Editor: Amy Linton

Not rated, 99 min.