I am at my second Sundance Film Festival. These are my reviews.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
DIRECTOR: Liz Garbus
U.S.A., 2014, 102 min., color
Plot (courtesy of Sundance): Classically trained pianist, dive-bar chanteuse, Black Power icon, and legendary recording artist Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. This astonishing epic interweaves never-beforeheard recordings and rare footage, creating
an unforgettable portrait of one of our least understood, most beloved artists.
Review: I am not a strong, black woman. Nina Simone definitely was. She was also an activist, a jazz singer, a blues artist, a classically trained pianist, an abused wife, an abusive mother, and one hell of a performer. Perhaps the reason I didn’t fall in love with What Happened, Miss Simone? is because I was never asking the question, “What happened to Nina Simone?” The title is taken from a Maya Angelou poem, and Simone most definitely had an amazing (and troubled) life. The documentary captures this with a series of old interviews, still images (that get the Ken Burns treatment), new interviews mainly from her daughter, diaries, and old concert footage. The diaries and concert footage are the most compelling pieces from that list. Watching the documentary, it’s easy to call her crazy, but more importantly she was undiagnosed. Even when the film attempts to explore this, you don’t really feel connected.
I am glad I know about Miss Simone, and I am glad I now know the song, “Mississippi Goddam,” but it didn’t shake me to the core, like Miss Simone’s inner demons clearly did.