Thursday, July 30, 2015
If you enjoy jazz, biographical documentaries, or both, you might want to check out What Happened, Miss Simone?, a documentary about the great jazz vocalist Nina Simone. It was produced by Netflix and is now available to stream on that service (I'm not sure if Netflix is also making a disc version available).
Simone was a fascinating figure, with many personal and professional ups and downs during her long career (refreshingly, despite much high drama in her life, Simone didn't die young from alcohol or drug abuse, though there seems to have been some of both in her life). Though the diagnosis didn't exist then, experts speculate today that Simone was probably also bi-polar, often making the demands of her profession especially hard to bear.
The most interesting part of the documentary, which runs an hour and forty-five minutes or so, is when we see Simone's activities during the civil rights era, where she stopped performing the kinds of songs people wanted to hear and instead wrote and sang some very visceral civil rights anthems. These anthems became hits, too, though Simone's career wasn't as lucrative during that period.
There's a nice balance of biographical material and music during the documentary, and you'll get a good sense of Simone's vocal talent, which was warm but offbeat, moving yet always a little agitated. And she was a terrific pianist, too, her playing displaying the same depth and complexity as her singing.
Anyway, decent documentary, and Netflix should be commended for producing it.