Posts Tagged ‘musical biopic’

Back to Black (2024)

Dir: Sam Taylor-Johnson | Cast: Marisa Abela, Eddie Marsan, Jack O’Connell, Lesley Manville, Bronson Webb, Harley Bird, Juliet Cowan | UK Musical Biopic 122′

Star biopics stand or fall on the quality of their central performance. We generally resent the idea that anyone could step into the shoes of a beloved artiste, particularly one who is no longer here. “No one can be David Bowie,” we scoff, writing off films like “Stardust” before we’ve even seen them. It takes a lot to convince us otherwise.

So it should be said straight off that Marisa Abela’s performance as Amy Winehouse in Back to Black is astonishingly, blindingly good. She’s got the look, she’s got the strut, the attitude, the toughness, the vulnerability. But what about the voice? No one sings like Amy, right? Does Abela mime, or does she try to sing and, inevitably, blow it spectacularly?

Well, actually neither. Abela does her own singing, and she has the Amy voice down. The electric current that plugs you directly into the singer’s nervous system, the riveting delivery that won’t let your attention stray one iota from the woman at the microphone.

It doesn’t feel so much like impersonation as wholesale possession (although it’s clearly the result of great craft and technique), and I frequently forgot that I wasn’t watching the real Winehouse. But what does it say about Amy’s raw authenticity that it can be recreated so completely by another gifted performer? Maybe this irony is one reason for the aggrieved noises from some uber-fans. Maybe it’s possible to pay tribute all too well.

We probably shouldn’t go to Back to Black for a deep understanding of the motives and inner life of its protagonist. After all, we watched the unravelling in real time, on TV, splashed across tabloids, in concert, so we should have a few working theories. Amy had a stellar talent, and a rage for music’s capacity to express extreme emotions. Maybe she began to create drama in her life which she could mine for songs. Maybe she developed a taste for ever-darker material. And maybe the feedback loop span out of control and she was consumed by drama that couldn’t be controlled or reconciled.

The film shows us Amy’s family (surely too loving to be blamed for her demons?), her agents and managers (but no sighting of Mark Ronson), and Blake Fielder-Civil, the great love of her life, played with lithe physicality by Jack O’Connell. Blake starts the film as a strutting jack-the-lad, diminishes into a venal, battered toy-boy husband, and ends it struggling out of drug dependency, mumbling his prison psychiatrist’s script about toxic co-dependent relationships as he makes his final break with Amy. “You should be stronger than me,” goes the refrain of one of the early songs. But Blake obviously wasn’t.

“I’m an anachronism”, she tells him at one point, and despite the film’s stated aim to rescue and celebrate Amy – just as she wanted to restore jazz to its rightful place in pop culture – it seems to agree with the sentiment. The mercurial singer is framed in a rapidly receding world of cobbled streets, Victorian railway arches, pubs where you can still smoke, and pop performers who refuse to be moulded by their handlers.

Back to Black will stand as a monument to Amy’s London. Golders Green Crematorium, Primrose Hill, Camden Town pubs The Dublin Castle and The Good Mixer, the London Zoo and Soho Square and other landmarks make appearances, all captured in fine, muted colours. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is similarly subdued, mostly ominous drones and strings playing figures in low registers, wisely avoiding any clash with the Winehouse style.

An image of a caged canary is lingered on a few times too often – yes, we get it – but Amy teetering on crazily high pink shoes at her Glastonbury performance (itself a memorable set-piece) sums up her reckless abandon as well as anything here: flirting shamelessly with the audience, over-sharing about her private life, staying upright through sheer stubborn will and a little help from the roadies, and singing as if her life depended on it – which it probably did.

The world didn’t know it needed a torch singer with punk attitude until Amy Winehouse came along, but she thought differently. And it certainly missed her after she’d gone. @IanLong

IN UK and IRISH CINEMAS from 12 April 2024 

Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got (1985)

Dir/Wri: Brigitte Berman | Canada | 1985 | 115m | English

An Oscar-winning music documentary about the mercurial clarinetist Artie Shaw returns to the screen after many years in a pristine new restoration.

Shaw (1920-2004) was no ordinary musician: his restless intellectual curiosity and uncompromising nature took him from postwar poverty to stardom in Hollywood where he would tirelessly reinvent himself as a pioneering saxophonist and bandleader, flouting the colour barrier of the time by hiring African Americans like Billie Holiday, Hot Lips Page and Roy Eldridge to play alongside him. Shunning celebrity in the 1940s Shaw would go on to write four bestsellers. His charisma and matinee idol good looks saw him marrying eight times, his wives included Lana Turner, Ava Garner and Evelyn Keyes. He even dated Rita Hayworth.

In Brigitte Berman’s Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got (1985) we join Artie in the privacy of his own home as he talks us through his five-decade career, enlivened by interviews and a treasure trove of photos and archival film footage. Berman refuses to try anything tricksy or complicated with her storyline,  adopting a straightforward chronological structure – and this is one of the plus points of this engrossing Oscar-winning documentary.

She sets the scene with a brief prologue. Artie Shaw (1910-2004) was born Arthur Arshawsky on the Lower East Side, to immigrant parents. An only child, he was teased for being Jewish when his family later moved to Connecticut. Retreating into books and music he taught himself the clarinet, practising eight hours a day, to escape his loneliness: “I just wanted to get up there on the stage in the bright lights with those pretty girls…and get out of where I was living”.

After ‘expelling himself’ from school to focus on music he soon found work as a jobbing clarinetist and saxophonist and headed to New York which was the capital of jazz in 1929. There the best work was to be found on the radio stations and Shaw was well paid. By the end the of the 1930s he would be earning USD 60k a week. From time to time during his career he became disenchanted by the music scene, taking time out to reflect on his second love, writing. In one of these ‘sabatacle’ breaks he bought a farm in Bucks County and hoping to spend the rest of his life there coming to the conclusion eventually that his recalcitrant personality and inability to compromise was better suited to writing than show business which required constant collaboration.

All that said, Shaw would go on to become one of the most popular stars of the 1930s and 40s Swing era – and a friendly rival to “King of Swing” Benny Goodman with his own compositions like “Nightmare”. His big break came in 1938 with a recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”. After that he never looked back as a leading light on the big-band circuit.

But it wasn’t always plain sailing – heading for the West Coast in 1939 to support soldiers during the war effort he fell ill with leukaemia, but was soon back on his feet after a ground-breaking treatment. Here his fame often got in the way of his solidarity with the others in his desire to entertain troops, and be assisted in his efforts to do so. When asked on one occasion: “Who do think you are?” He answered: I know who I am: but who do YOU think I am?”

Tiring of fame during the ‘jitterbug’ era when he literally walked offstage after being hit by a dancer’s heel during a stint as the house bandleader at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel. The public was offended when Shaw angrily branded the jitterbugger as ‘morons’, for not taking music more seriously. Undeterred, he refused to come back, but of course he would return.

Although he never professed to be an actor, Shaw appeared alongside Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard in H C Potter’s 1940 outing Second Chorus that sees Artie taking on two competitive college students (Burgess Meredith and Fred Astaire) after hiring their band manager Ellen Miller (Godard). The pair then compete to win Ellen’s heart. 

Berman is an award-winning Canadian film director best known for her 1981 documentary debut BIX: Ain’t none of them play like him yet, which focused on another jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. Berman shows how Shaw’s restlessness and intellectual curiosity drove him forward to explore his creativity and collaborate with a number of well known stars of the time including vocalist Mel Tormé, drummer Buddy Rich – who give interviews – and actress/ex-wife Evelyn Keyes (Gone With The Wind), whose other ex-husbands included director John Huston. @MeredithTaylor

A tribute to my father Gordon Taylor who was inspired to learn the clarinet by Artie Shaw | Screening at Film Forum from Friday, January 5 to Thursday, January 11 – the New York premiere of a new 4K restoration, supervised by the director.

Fanny: the other Mendelssohn (2023)

Wri/Dir: Sheila Hayman | Doc 97′

Raising the profile of yet another uncelebrated musical genius, a new documentary unveils the little known story of Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847). This could have been just another worthy study of female endeavour but BAFTA-winning filmmaker Sheila Hayman brings her great-great-great-grandmother Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel to life in an absorbing biopic that delves into the archives and crafts a juicy tale of celebrity, sibling rivalry, and hitherto undiscovered treasure.

Fanny Mendlessohn was born in Hamburg, Germany where she always took a backseat to her more famous younger brother Felix. Despite the male-dominated classical music scene of the era she still managed to compose 450 works in a life that was cut short at 42. Fanny’s masterpiece ‘The Easter Sonata’, is performed by Decca-winning pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason who enlightens us with her own challenges in the field of classical music: and it seems little has changed since the 19th century.

This lively documentary is set on location in Berlin, New York, London, Oxford and Buckingham Palace, Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn follows in the tracks of other creative female pioneers of the 19th Century: The Bronte sisters, George Sand and Berthe Morisot. All very modern women – who just happened to live several hundred years ago.@MeredithTaylor

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS

8 of the Best Musical Biopics

Amy (2015) Rent/Buy

Best known for Senna, his acclaimed 2010 on about late Formula One driver, Asif Kapadia garnered an Oscar for this bittersweet biopic introducing the Southgate-born jazz singer as a “North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude”, who loved to write poetry and lyrics. Unearthing a treasure trove of photos, home movie footage and demos shared from over 100 interviews from those closest to her, he shows Winehouse as a witty, down to earth and “gobby” girl with a rich and velvety voice, who never wanted to be famous but whose inadvertent stardom let to her tragic death, aged 27.

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021) – Apple TV/Prime Video

Do we need another Brian Wilson documentary? I Just Wasn’t made for These Times and Love & Mercy have already told his story, but the billion or so the super-fans will always ask for more. And The Beach Boys were America’s answer to The Beatles, back in the day, they epitomised an era and their harmonies are almost as divine – so yes, we do!.

Director Brent Wilson (no relation), veteran of music docs like Streetlight Harmonies, has tried the linear angle, confronting the images of the ‘Beach Boy’ founder with today’s survivor of schizoid-affective and bi-polar disorders, who enjoys being on tour again, even though the hallucinatory voices still haunt him – and have done for the last 60 years – when he is performing, in spite of all the medication available.

‘Rolling Stone’ editor Jason Fine, a close friend of Wilson, drives the megastar composer/singer round his favourite haunts, sadly only getting monosyllabic answers to his leading questions. Brian is very much in the shell he has created to survive. And there is more that enough pain for anybody to deal with, let alone a highly-strung artist.

Music-wise there is extensive time devoted to the iconic “Pet Sounds” and SMiLE, that came into being in the mid-1960s and finished thirty years later. There are few revelations, the bitter chapter of Brian’s relationship with fellow Beach Boy Mike Love is nearly brushed out of the picture. Only once the mask of self-defence slips, when Brian tells Jason “I have not talked to a real friend in three years.”

Miles Davis : Birth of the Cool (2019) Netflix/Apple TV

Documentarian Stanley Nelson tells it all in the usual talking heads style – Frances Taylor, Greg Tate, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and his final manager Mark Rothbaum all appear and a straightforward narrative structure enlivened by many photos and clips from the archives. The film luxuriates in its musical interludes which are enjoyable and plentiful making this possibly the definitive biopic of one of the most inventive jazz musicians of the 20th century. Stanley Nelson’s expansive documentary takes an entertaining breeze through the musical career of Miles Davis eclipsing Don Cheadle’s movie 2015 drama Miles Ahead

“All I ever wanted to do was communicate through music”. The iconic jazz trumpeter and composer developed smooth romantic vibes and invented a cool, sophisticated masculinity that came to be known as the ‘Miles Davis Mystique’. For over five decades Miles developed various jazz styles from bebop, cool jazz and jazz fusion working with Prestige, Columbia, and Warner Brothers despite a rocky personal life that was full of love but fraught by ill health and emotional instability.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (2017)

As fabulous now as when she was in 1979 when I first experienced her at a concert in Italy’s famous Covo di Nord Est – Grace Jones still rocks. Now at 75 her voice has mellowed, wavering occasionally, but her glamour and star power are just as potent and her aura and outrageous antics as just spectacular, if not more.

After an overture of Slave to the Rhythm where Grace performs in purple regalia and a golden sunburst mask, Fiennes cuts to an autograph session with fans fawning: “I’ve been waiting to see you for 25 years” – Grace responds “so has my mother”. Suddenly we are following her through Jamaica airport for an exuberant reunion with her mother (who looks like Aretha Franklin), son Paolo and niece Chantel, and as night falls, the camera pictures a sultry moonlight gig in the torridly tropical island, drenched in lush emerald forests.

Fiennes’ punctuates the gutsy real time footage shot in her kitchen, car and dressing room – with Grace’s mesmerising Dublin stage show, but both are beguiling and cinematic. Fiennes’ shirks the traditional documentary format – there are no photos or archive footage, making Bloodlight And Bami fresh, feisty and intriguing for longtime fans who have never really experienced the woman ‘behind the scenes’. It’s also longer than most docs at nearly 2 hours. In concert footage, Grace mesmerises with performances of Pull Up To The Bumper and more personal tracks including Williams’ Blood, This Is and Hurricane. She is s force of nature, and certainly a force to be reckoned with. MT

Stop Making Sense (David Byrne and Talking Heads (1985 re-released in 2023) AppleTV/Prime Video

Maybe not the latest look at but certainly the most iconic, this is a musical biopic in the best sense of the word. In Hollywood December 1983, French director Jonathan Demme films three concerts from Scottish maverick music maker David Byrne, rolling them out without explanation or talking heads – although Talking Heads are very much part of the scene. The bands speaks for itself and we get the best seats – on stage, up close and personal and from the back of the auditorium, even loitering in the wings. Demme’s film is an energising experience made at the climax of what would be the band’s final major tour. The show starts with the beat-driven Pyscho Killer and works its way through a classic repertoire with hits such as, Take Me to the Water to This Must be the Place that scored Paolo Sorrentino’s film of the same name in 2011 and of course, Once in a Lifetime. Byrne gradually relaxes from taut jutting-faced uncertainty to a more smiling and febrile intensity, a style icon in white plimsolls and oversized concrete-coloured suits. Hypnotic to look at, his moves are as funky, smooth and syncopated as Bing Crosby or even Elvis without the sexual magnetism: Byrne is a performer more artfully ambivalent in his erotic appeal, but none the less legendary. And he feels very much at home on his own or surrounded by his family of Talking Heads. A nostalgic, diverting, happy film. MT

Rachmaninov:The Harvest of Sorrow (1998) Rent/Buy

Tony Palmer’s extensive documentary about one of the world’s most loved composers (1873-1943) is a vibrant memoire, enlivened by musical interludes and ample archive footage of his life and times in Russia, Sweden and the United States where he finally died in 1943, unable to return to his beloved homeland: “a ghost wandering forever in the world”.

Playing out as a long autobiographical letter to his daughters Tatiana and Irina, voiced by Gielgud in slightly sardonic but wistful tone, the film covers the composer’s life until his final months in New York. But it starts at a low point, with the Rachmaninoff family leaving Russia in 1917, escaping from the Bolshevik devastation of Petrograd (soon to be Leningrad) set for musical adventures in Stockholm, and thence to America. Desperate about leaving his homeland, the composer also felt at a low ebb creatively: “Nowadays I am never satisfied with myself, I am burdened with a harvest of sorrow: I almost never feel that what I do is successful”.

Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023) Netflix

Rock legend Little Richard comes alive in this new biopic from Lisa Cortes. It sees the musical icon trying to come to terms with his complex personality and explores the lack of public recognition during his lifetime. John Waters, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones – among others – help to shed light on a life so full of promise, but blighted by social reality. Sometimes verging on the hagiographic, Cortes manages a wealth of information with aplomb, a more non-linear approach might have been an alternative.

Richard Wayne Penniman (1932-2020) was born in Macon (GA) in the deep South of he USA. Black, queer and disabled he was most certainly abused in childhood. But his deep religious faith eventually led to him renouncing his gayness: “God wanted Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

The man who would create “Tutti Frutti”, ”Long Tall Sally”. “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Rip it Up” single-handedly invented Rock’N’ Roll – but the glory and the awards went to Elvis and Pat Boone: No wonder, he felt cheated. He was the architect of an art form and a social identity that became progressively clearer only later in his life.

ENNIO (2021) Prime Video

Ennio Morricone was one of cinema’s best loved and most prolific composers. Giuseppe Tornatore captures his complex romantic spirit in this warmly nostalgic tribute that also celebrates their own working relationship that started with Cinema Paradiso (1988) and continued for many years. In his lifetime Morricone scored over 500 movies, one year alone completing 18 films.

The biopic straddles film and musicology enriched by a treasure trove of excerpts and the stars that brought them to life praising Morricone’s charisma and single mindedness and describing their own experiences with a man whose modesty contrasted with his prodigious talent to amuse. The final half hour does feel repetitive with its endless clips of concert performances which add nothing to the party, and almost fly in the face of the composer’s lowkey sense of style. MT

 

 

 

 

 

Carlos (2023)

Dir: Rudy Valdez | US biopic with Carlos Santana | 87′

This is a comprehensive and personal chronicle recounted by the Mexican born guitarist Carlos Santana, now 76, who rose to fame in the late 1960s where he pioneered a fusion of rock&roll and American jazz with his eponymous band.

Directed by Rudy Valdez and featuring Carlos himself – interweaved with archive footage, family photos and films of the band performing – we hear how he grew up in 1950s Tijuana Mexico, where his parents were his main influence – and not always in a positive light – along with Tito Puentes, Little Richard and B B King. His father Jose was a violin player in a classic Mariachi band, a national instrumental style that involved the players dressed in matching outfits, led by a conductor. Close to his mother, Carlos states, in a rather cheesy note, how buying her a home with a refrigerator meant much more to him than personal fame.

Carlos’ first recorded performance was in 1966 when the family had moved to San Francisco where he would cross paths with producer Bill Graham who began booking the band as a support act to the likes of The Who.

For diehard fans of Santana’s iconic style, the film misses a trick in its focus on family details as recorded in his 2014 memoir, “The Universal Tone,” more than his fabulous career as lead of the world famous band. The thrust here is on his early struggles which involved sexual abuse, addition and racism, and his fight for success and recognition through spirituality.

The band toured internationally, and I was lucky enough to see them at a gig at university on their rise to fame with the 1999 ‘Supernatural’ Album, and they made for a spectacular live act and are equally powerful in the recording studio.

But Carlos ultimately attributed his success to Columbia’s Clive Davis, who is now a senior at Sony Music Entertainment, the production company behind this documentary. There is a distinct lack of commentary from friends and collaborators making this seem rather a one-sided and even self-congratulatory affair despite some enjoyable musical interludes that stand testament to the band’s iconic status and worthy of its international fan base. MT

CARLOS: THE SANTANA JOURNEY GLOBAL PREMIERE | IN SELECT UK Cinemas ON SEPTEMBER 23 & 27. 

Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

Dir: Ahmir ‘Questlove” Thompson | US Doc, 118’

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is the subject of this dynamite documentary from Ahmir ‘Questlove” Thompson ‘proudly’ showcasing that musical celebration of Black culture, fashion and history.

Back in the day – and we’re talking about the Sixties (and even the 1920s, 30, and ’40s) – everyone loved Black music, not because it was Black but because it was rhythmic, soulful and cool. But maybe that’s because I had a father who hummed, danced and played on the piano those heady tunes from Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and more.

Soul followed on in the same effervescent way, the syncopated jazz of his era becoming the sinuous and sensual soul of my student days: music from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, Marvyn Gaye, Mahalia Jackson and the Supremes.

Thompson revisits this darkly glamorous era in a New York concert that coincided with the much higher profile of Woodstock just down the road. Now that was my brother’s territory: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Joni Mitchell. The Harlem affair somehow got buried under the weight of Woodstock, but why, when the music was just as fabulous – I never thought about ‘Black’ music – just music I liked…and I would been there like a shot given the opportunity…years later.

In Harlem’s Mount Morris 300,000 – mostly Black- fans gathered to enjoy a series of free ‘gigs’ and Thompson has assembled a treasure trove of archive footage that tethers the era to the present with just a smattering of talk heads that enrich rather than diminish the musical experience. MT

OSCAR WINNER FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | BEST DOCUMENTARY EE BAFTAS 2022 | NOW IN CINEMAS

The Beatles and India (2021) Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival

Dir: Ajoy Bose, Peter Compton | Doc, 95

Regaling the time when The Beatles went mad in India – where Beatlemania was already a thing – this new musical documentary digs up some archive treasures from from an era that launched flower power and all things surreal and psychedelic.

The title sequence kicks off with Rammi Kapoor doing his stuff accompanied by India’s equivalent band the Savages and a motley crew of exotic dancers in Bhappi Sonie’s 1965 film Janwar. We then cut back to archive footage of a bomb-struck Liverpool where the boys recall their how grim it was back then in England – has anything changed – and confirming that the grass is always greener when you venture to pastures new. As they did.

The Beatle story has already been rung dry of new juice but somehow Ajoy Bose and his co-director Peter Compton switch stuff around to make this fun and entertaining, and a tribute to how four young guys electrified the youth of their day, who up to then looked and acted pretty much as their parents had done until this zippy injection of counterculture ushered in the Swinging Sixties.

And the band’s massive success certainly did its bit in turning the spotlight on India  which until then had never registered in the collective consciousness of the west (could they now please do something for climate change?).

Of course, George Harrison will always go down in history as being the most adventurous Beatle beating a path to India to take sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar in 1966. The others followed in 1968 captivated by the idiosyncratic sitar music and its history and transformational powers, and this is the thrust of this new film with its fascinating talking heads recalling their own memories of the band’s visit from the Indian perspective. MT

MALLORCA EVOLUTION INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 27 Oct 27 – 2 Nov 2021

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1958) Curzon

Dir.: Bert Stern, Aram Avakian; Documentary with Theolonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Chico Hamilton, Chuck Berry; USA 1959, 85 min.

This documentary of the Newport Jazz Festival that took place at Freebody Park, Newport, Rhode Island in July 1958 is the only directional credit of fashion photographer Bert Stern; also one of three credited cameramen of Jazz. (His co-director Aram Avakian is best known for helming End of the Road (1970), which got a X-rating for showing an abortion).

Jazz is a lively interactive blast from the past, the crowd are major players in an event that captures the heady atmosphere of a free-wheeling and jubilant world on the cusp of the 1960s: the best was yet to come in this brave and promising new era. Of course, behind the scenes Behind Vietnam was raging and the filmmakers make a conscious decision not to include the mayhem caused by an influx of black citizens into the luxury enclave of Rhode Island. But they are big players as musicians and onlookers enjoying the pleasant July seaside resort.

The music is very mainstream, even by standards of the late 1950s. Looking at the list of omissions by the filmmakers – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington with his band, and Mary Lou Williams – it becomes clear Jazz was meant to appeal to the widest audience possible. Still, it works, mainly because the lack if commentary, just the voice of emcee Willis Connover. The directors drift around the harbour too where yachts were competed in trials for the ‘America Cup’, adding a salty maritime edge to the sultry Southern singers. Their camera catches the Hamilton Quintet rehearsing in a nearby house, after which cellist Nathan Gershman plays Bach’s Cello Suite number one – just for himself.

Having said all this, there is a towering cast of musicians, dominated by female artists – Louis Armstrong (joyful as ever) and his “All Stars”, Anita O’Day (Sweet Georgia Brown), Dinah Washington (All of Me), R&B star Big Maybelle and Mahalia Jackson. At the beginning we get only a short glance of Theolonious Monk, playing “Blue Monk” with his trio, totally immersed in playing the piano, oblivious to what was going on around him. Chuck Berry enjoyed great applause for his version of “Sweet little sixteen”, even though it was originally a rock hit. But the night belonged to Mahalia Jackson, whose “The Lord’s Prayer” ran into Sunday morning.

The audience is shown intimately, not just a decorative backdrop, but a real participant. Some are serious devotees, others have brought their children and even babies to boogie along. A vicar and fan with his own 8mm camera are also on show. The consensus was to give the impression of a united nation, helped along by a decade of affluence. But the undocumented police interference was a sign of things to come. The near future would bring the murders of John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby and the slaying of Martin Luther King amongst a growing Civil Rights movement. So looking back Newport 1958 appeared like a beacon of hope, in a world now lost for ever. We are left wondering how many of the earnest young citizens went on to the streets in the 1960s, protesting against the Vietnam War.

The film was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1959 and the restored copy is much more than a Jazz documentary: A snapshot of a nation just before major turmoil would jumble the pieces leaving nothing in its place any more. Only the jazz survived. AS

A 4K RESTORATION ON CURZON | 30 AUGUST 2021

 

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