'What Happened, Miss Simone?'
(Nina Simone / DVD + CD / NR / 2016 / Eagle Vision)
Overview: 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. In this epic documentary, director Liz Garbus interweaves never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage together with Nina's most memorable songs, to create an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved, artists of our time.
DVD Verdict: 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' is a Netflix original, using recently unearthed audiotapes, recorded over the course of three decades, of Nina telling her life story to various interviewers and would-be biographers. From over 100 hours of these recordings, the film weaves together Nina's narrative, told largely in her own words.
Rare concert footage and archival interviews, along with diaries, letters, interviews with Nina's daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, friends and collaborators, along with other exclusive materials, make this the most authentic, personal and unflinching telling of the extraordinary life of one of the 20th century's greatest recording artists.
If, like myself, you didn't know this documentary even existed, and yet count yourself as a lover of Nina Simone's music, then 'What Happened, Miss Simone? will, without a shadow of a doubt, leave you open mouthed and deeper in love with the legend herself.
Directed by documentarian Liz Garbus, this stunning documentary captures everything most adored about Simone and the things that made her a particularly flawed human. There are plenty of moments left for us to sit back and let chills creep up our arm through astonishing concert footage, but there are also moments that let it be known that Simone, though a national treasure, was a woman continuously suffering with inner demons left untouched throughout most of her career.
Indeed, 'What Happened, Miss Simone? pulls you immediately, right from the off into the life of the little girl, Eunice Waymon, who eventually becomes Nina Simone. Through skillful use of all the aforementioned contextual materials now to hand, and clearly with a genuine appreciation and love for the subject, Garbus has found the thread that strings all of this material together; the genius and passion of a driven artist.
I mean, did we all know it was a mental illness that finally brought Simone down? Not her music, her career, but her personal life. Well, Garbus was also fortunate to have Simone's daughter's cooperation as well as her first husband and friends involved. Giving you amazing access into Simone's world as well as into her mental illness that impacted but never destroyed her career, this sort of access alone is more than enough reason to see this film.
Hearing the familiar songs with their stories, and learning about Nina's life journey, all somehow fits powerfully with contemporary racial issues in the US. This film can serve to educate, and inspire, as we continue to navigate the tortuous path to justice. Thank you, Liz Garbus for making this film, and bringing Nina Simone to even more people.
On one final note, 'What Happened, Miss Simone?' is one of two Netflix Productions nominated for an Academy Award in the Category "Best Documentary" in 2016. The other one being 'Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom' (2015). This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Feature of Bonus Interviews with: Ambassador Shabazz, Dick Gregory, Gerrit De Bruin, Roger Nupie, Al Schackman, Gerrit De Bruin, Raymond Gonzalez & Al Schackman, and Lisa Simone Kelly.
1. I Loves You Porgy 2. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood 3. I Put A Spell On You 4. Strange Fruit 5. Sinnerman 6. Mississippi Goddam 7. Little Girl Blue 8. Don't Smoke In Bed 9. My Baby Just Cares For Me 10. Lilac Wine 11. Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair 12. Night Song 13. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out 14. Feeling Good 15. Ne Me Quitte Pas