Susan Morris | Reviews

DOC NYC: Music

A welcome clutch of films about women in music were shown.

Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn about the neglected career of Felix’s sister, Fanny (1805–1847), a pianist and composer born in Berlin but constrained by societal prejudices. Her talents as a composer have begun to be unlocked by scholars who have uncovered her work, and discovered that some of Felix’s most notable compositions were actually hers.

The Only Girl in the Orchestra was Orin O’Brien who was hired by Leonard Bernstein for the New York Philharmonic in 1966 to play the double bass. Born in 1935 (she is now 88 years old), recently retired but still teaching, she shirked the attention she attracted and wanted to blend into a group effort, unlike her movie-star parents, George O'Brien (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans) and Marguerite Churchill (Riders of the Purple Sage).  

Last Song From Kabul by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, High & Low: John Galliano) is about the young girls in an Afghan music school when the Taliban take over in 2021 instituting bans on music and girls attending school. The girls go into hiding, then make a harrowing escape to Portugal.  

Whitney Houston in Focus shows the singer pre-fame in the years 1982-86 from the point of view of Bette Marshall, the photographer who documented this rising star.  Given access to Whitney by her family, Marshall captures her at home, in auditions, at performances and even in church.  The film is structured around ten photos sessions the two held.  

Other music films tell stories of youth, musicians we should know better, and songs of defiance.

Former lawyer-turned-conductor Chuck Dickerson founded ICYOLA - The Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles — the largest majority Black orchestra in the country in The Orchestra Chuck Built. He tries to upend the statistic that in 2016 only 1.8% of U.S. orchestras employed Black musicians. Chuck serves as mentor, cheerleader, and leader.

Dalton Harris won The X Factor TV competition in 2018 with his remarkable voice, but has struggled to forge the career his talent promised in Dalton’s Dream. Instead, he has been hampered by his homosexuality, which is frowned upon in his native Jamaica, which has pilloried him after initially heralding his success as the first non-British and Black winner of the program.  

Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between is known and loved by actor Harvey Keitel, and fellow musicians including Graham Parker, Alejandro Escovedo, Vernon Reid, Laurie Anderson and Bruce Springsteen who says “He’s in the great singer/songwriter tradition of Dylan and Neil Young; one of the American greats.” Now 80 and raised in Brooklyn, he was shaped by his Black, white and Puerto Rican heritage or as he says “father of coal, mother of pearl.” HIs music is influenced by doo-wop, jazz, 1950s rock’n’roll, but it is all his own.

They Shot the Piano Player is an animated film about a NY journalist who sleuths the actual 1976 disappearance and presumed murder of Brazilian piano virtuoso Francisco Tenório Júnior, a star Bossa Nova player.  Swirling with the repressive totalitarian political regimes in Latin America, the film incorporates the music and (sometimes) voices of João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Vinicius de Moraes and Paulo Moura.  

We are artists, we are sensibility…

We are the dignity of an entire people trampled on

At gunpoint and with words that are still worthless

No more lies, My people call for freedom

No more doctrines, we no longer shout homeland or death, homeland and life instead

And start building what we've dreamed of

These are the opening lyrics of “Patria y Vida.” The film Patria y Vida: The Power of Music, whose title translates as “homeland and life,” a phrase that dates back to the 1959 Cuban Revolution with the inverted Patria o Muerte ("Homeland or Death").
We live with the uncertainty of the past, dumped
We raise the flag, the repression of the regime daily
Anamely Ramos steady with their poetry

Omara Ruiz Urquiola giving us strength of life

It shows how this rap song, now banned in Cuba, became a rallying cry and protest anthem in the crackdown against artists in the 2021 San Isidro movement.  It is a collaboration of Cuban musicians on the island and those in exile.  
They kicked our door down, they violated our temple
the San Isidro movement continues…

Homeland and life…
Sixty years of stalemate domino
A musician who performs in the group, Mykal Osboro, remains in jail for the song.  It won won Song of the Year and Best Urban Song at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2021.

The goblet-shaped drum played by hands is the instrument of Famoudou Konate - the King of Djembe. The Guinean percussionist’s story starts from his childhood and goes through performing across the world with Les Ballets Africains.  Now in his 80s, he is still going strong.

Taking Back The Groove profiles disco artist Richie Weeks, probably best known for “Rock Your World” (1981), who worked at the post office by day and performed at such places at Studio 54 by night.  More recently, he has been reclaiming the rights to his music that were lost to record labels.  In addition, he has a vast collection of recordings that had been unreleased, “The Love Magician Archives.”  

Films Mentioned:
Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn, directed by Sheila Hayman
The Only Girl in the Orchestra, directed by Molly O’Brien
Last Song From Kabul, directed by Kevin Macdonald
Whitney Houston in Focus, directed by Benjamin Alfonsi
The Orchestra Chuck Built, directed by Christopher Stoudt
Dalton’s Dream, directed by Kim Longinotto & Franky Murray Brown
Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between, directed by Claire Jeffreys
They Shot the Piano Player, directed by Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal 
Patria y Vida: The Power of Music, directed by Beatriz Luengo
Famoudou Konate - the King of Djembe, directed by André Piruka
Taking Back the Groove, directed by Celia Aniskovich

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Media, Music

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