Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2015. Moxie Firecracker Films, Netflix, RadicalMedia. Cinematography by Igor Martinovic. Produced by Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby, Jayson Jackson, Justin Wilkes. Production Design by Markus Kirschner. Film Editing by Joshua L. Pearson. Academy Awards 2015. Dorian Awards 2015.
After having given the world the best documentary ever made on Marilyn Monroe, Liz Garbus turns her keen eye to another legend of show business. Born in North Carolina in 1933, Eunice Waymon begins playing piano as a child and grows up determined to be the first female African-American classic concert pianist. Following the disappointment of being denied entrance into the music college that would have furthered her career, Weymon supports herself by playing jazzier stuff in bars and clubs, performing under the name of Nina Simone to avoid her mother finding out how she is spending her time. This eventually becomes the astronomical career we currently know her for, an incredible accomplishment of performing, writing and arranging that sees the woman burning up a keyboard and delivering that unique voice, the entire time managed by her husband Andrew Stroud. When the Civil Rights movement reaches its strongest point, with footage of atrocities on the news and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King speaking out in public, Simone’s music and performance take on an edge that sees her reach her full powers, delivering a message without undermining the quality of the music. The years of fatigue and self-doubt combined with the many injustices she had known herself, plus a home life with Stroud that was frequently ugly, do not leave her without her complications; her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly appears here to provide generous and frank feedback, revealing that many of Simone’s private hours were as dark as her performances were glorious. Garbus gives us all this information in a rich collection of brilliant footage that very ably switches to many scenes in concert that make sure we never forget what made this woman so special. A highly satisfying document about Simone that is awe-inspiring without ever being carefully reverential or inhuman.