Tuesday, January 27, 2015

JohnMalveaux: TheRoot.com: Nina Simone: A Complex and Troubled Legacy

Jazz and blues singer Nina Simone in concert at the Olympia music hall in Paris on Oct. 22, 1991             

John Malveaux of 

Nina Simone left the United States after assasination of MLK Jr. A new film about the great pianist, songwriter, and activist screened at Sundance http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/01/what_happened_miss_simone_documentary_opens_sundance_film_festival.html


A new documentary about the singer’s life, with never-before-seen interviews and clips, opened the Sundance Film Festival.

What Happened, Miss Simone? takes an unflinching look at the sometimes troubled life and complex legacy of the singer, pianist and civil rights activist. At one point in her career, Nina Simone was a celebrated performer playing Carnegie Hall, but fast-forward, and she’s singing in dive bars in Paris for a couple of hundred dollars a night. What happened along the way is what the film does a masterful job of portraying.

The title What Happened, Miss Simone? comes from Maya Angelou’s poem “The Singer Will Not Sing.” Director Liz Garbus does a great job engaging the audience and bringing Simone to life. Garbus, who is white, has tackled black subjects before, including directing the film The Execution of Wanda Jean. With the controversy surrounding the Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana, it is important to note that this documentary from Netflix shows the real Nina Simone, not a whitewashed version.

Through the use of rare archival footage and never-before-released recordings, Garbus lets Simone tell her own story in her own words. Before we even get to the opening credits, we see a long clip of Simone performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976 as part of her comeback. Some may wish there had been more editing, but because the filmmaker wants her audience to know the real Simone, she lets it play on for so long that you can see the singer’s mood and facial expressions change significantly. That in itself tells an important story about how she sees herself at the time. Simone’s life was so complex that it seems Garbus had no choice but to get into that detail. While some might have wished she had sped things up, a complicated subject deserves this treatment.

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