Saturday, 18 July 2015


You may have oft read writers describe a film's rhythm, or its tones and timbres. Well, here is a film that effectively is its rhythm and its tones, its harmonies and its melodies, its music and its lyrics. What Happened, Miss Simone? is a bracing music documentary that lives and/or dies on the music therein; once it stops being a music documentary, it begins to wither. And what a shame that is, after Liz Garbus demonstrates a seductive sense of musicality very early on - an appreciation of how music unheard and context unspoken of can stimulate every synapse in our brains, every hair on our bodies. In due respect, she permits much of this film to the dominance of the musical output of her subject, the incomparable Nina Simone, and her stunning live performances and sumptuous recordings are truly thrilling - when Simone is at the wheel of What Happened, the film not only lives, it gives life! When Garbus takes her place, she fails to find a way to substitute anything else for that life, and the songs that spoke Simone's story greater than any of the talking head recollections that accompany it simply die away, and we're left with recollections only. In the final act of What Happened, one reaches the alarming realisation that the entire film has pursued so formulaic a structure... but wasn't the music grand? Appropriately, perhaps (though it makes for a less satisfying artistic product from the filmmakers' end), the musicality of the film dies away far more promptly, and gives in, in aforementioned due respect, to Simone's own unparallelled musicality. Nothing can match her rhythms, her tones, her timbres - whether in or out of context, they are greater works of art than any film could (or is it should?) ever aspire to be.

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