Documentary Films: “What Happened, Miss Simone?”

One of the films generating buzz at this week’s Sundance Festival is a documentary about Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone? The title comes from a poem by Maya Angelou. I want to see this one.

  • What Happened, Miss Simone? – Clip – Netflix [HD] – YouTube
    Classically trained pianist, black power icon and legendary recording artist, Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. In the upcoming Netflix original documentary, Academy Award® nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together with Nina?’s most memorable songs, creating an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved artists of our time.
  • 8 Nina Simone Facts We Learned from the New Netflix Doc – Biography.com 012715
    Nina Simone wished she could downshift her singing career from artistic pursuit to mindless job, where it could be more about delivering sound than soul. She couldn’t do it. Simone gave everything to her melodies, each syncopated, rambunctious, fully-charged musical numbers drenched in emotion. Whether the songs were about love, loss, or fighting for equality, they had to emerge from her heart, a task that took its toll on her mental and physical health over the years. Nina Simone remains one of the greatest performers who ever lived and it came at a price. | In What Happened, Miss Simone?, documentarian Liz Garbus (Bobby Fischer Against the World and Love, Marilyn) strings together never-before-seen archival footage, long-lost recordings, and talking head interviews with some of the singer’s closest friends and family, to present an expansive look at Simone’s life. The film debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival this week. | Fans of the recent docudrama Selma will recognize proud and horrifying moments from the Selma-to-Montgomery protest march that led to the Voting Rights Act’s passing. A ferocious activist, Simone descended upon the town to perform for the protesters. A particularly stirring clip from the film shows the singer belting “Mississippi Goddam,” a Civil Rights-themed song written in the wake of Birmingham, Alabama bombing that killed four girls. | Simone’s life hit major turbulence in the ’70s, when she fled America to Liberia and eventually Paris. At her lowest point, struggling for cash and looking “like a street urchin” (her friends’ words), the musician managed just a few hundred dollars per gig playing for small French crowds in surrounding cafes. According to Simone, few people turned out for the shows. No one believed it was actually her, so why go? Time, medication, and rehab eventually revived the Simone that fans once knew, though her daughter believes the singer lost certain octaves, notes she never sang again, during this down period.
  • ‘Stronger Than Ever’ Sundance Docs Tackle Scientology, Campus Rape : NPR 012715
    Over in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing. Critic Kenneth Turan tells NPR’s Renee Montagne about some of the festival’s must-see films, including documentaries about Scientology, rape on college campuses and Nina Simone, and a romantic drama based on a novel by Colm Tóibín. | KT: “The first one that played on opening night is called What Happened, Miss Simone? It’s about the singer Nina Simone. The title is from a poem by Maya Angelou, who wondered about the gap in Nina Simone’s performing career. And this looks at the entirety of her career — how she started, why she turned to singing in the first place. She had a major involvement in the civil rights movement, then she had a lot of personal difficulties, and this film really shows us what her life was like in a very intimate way.”
  • Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam – YouTube
    Holland 1965

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