[JPL] off subject: Red Tails (the Movie)

Jim Eigo jim at jazzpromoservices.com
Fri Jan 13 07:17:55 EST 2012

> http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/movies/sing-your-song-documentary-about-h
> arry-belafonte-review.html

> January 12, 2012
> Movie Review | 'Sing Your Song'
> Struggle and Song Define a Life
> <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/manohla_dargis/i
> ndex.html?inline=nyt-per>
> It¹s only fitting that Harry Belafonte
> <http://movies.nytimes.com/person/5054/Harry-Belafonte?inline=nyt-per> ¹s big,
> bountiful life has inspired an expansive, understandably hagiographic
> documentary, ³Sing Your Song.²
> <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/464245/Sing-Your-Song/overview>  Silky voiced
> and snake hipped, with a supernova smile that dazzled Americans and helped
> demolish racial prejudices, he remains perhaps best known for his lilting
> version of the Caribbean folk tune ³The Banana Boat Song² (³Day-O
> <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Euc9MMRtuSg> ²), a requiem for the exhausted
> working man. Given his decades of tireless globe-sprinting crusading ‹
> alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and African activists alike ‹
> it¹s clear that Mr. Belafonte rarely embraced the plaintive refrain of
> ³Day-O²: ³Daylight come and me wan¹ go home.²
> Did Mr. Belafonte ever take a break? It¹s hard to say from the headline
> approach of ³Sing Your Song,² which was directed by Susanne Rostock and
> produced by five people, including the youngest of his four children, Gina
> Belafonte. He was born in New York to Jamaican immigrants in 1927 ‹ he turns
> 85 on March 1 ‹ a hard start that, as he writes in the recent ³My Song: A
> Memoir,² meant ³I was born into poverty, grew up in poverty, and for a long
> time poverty was all I thought I¹d know.² There were years of deprivations,
> long interludes in Jamaica and an adolescent stint in New York passing as
> white so that his family could live in a restricted apartment building.
> Clocking in at a crammed 104 minutes, ³Sing Your Song² only skims the surface
> of Mr. Belafonte¹s life ‹ it also sometimes politely edges around it or just
> ignores the messier bits ‹ but what a rich, glossy surface it is, the stuff of
> a bildungsroman. In 1944, at 17, he enlisted in the Navy, where he soon
> discovered the writing of W. E. B. Du Bois, who helped found the National
> Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Two years later Mr.
> Belafonte saw a play at the American Negro Theater
> <http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/american-negro-theater-formed>
> in Harlem, which gave black actors roles and opportunities denied them
> elsewhere. He was hooked, and art and activism became the twin pillars on
> which he built his life.
> For the movie¹s first hour or so it feels as if you¹re riding shotgun on a
> hurricane as, guided by Mr. Belafonte¹s on-and-off narration, you¹re plunged
> into a swirl of names, places, productions, causes and events. He was
> everywhere at once, making news as a black performer with an increasingly
> large and accepting white audience and as a participant in the civil rights
> movement. In 1949 he began singing at the Royal Roost, a New York jazz club
> where Max Roach and Charlie Parker were his backup. Then it was off to
> Broadway and a Tony in 1954 for the musical revue ³John Murray Anderson¹s
> Almanac.² TV and movie fame came next and, with it, wider exposure to an
> awakening America.
> Ms. Rostock has worked as a film editor, a background that, for the most part
> and especially at first, serves her well in ³Sing Your Song,² which integrates
> original interviews with a wealth of archival material from home movies to
> newsreels and film and TV snippets (though not always with their correct
> aspect ratios). The interviews, a Who¹s Who of political and entertainment
> celebrity, feature performers like Tony Bennett, Ruby Dee, Miriam Makeba and
> Sidney Poitier, whose stories and star wattage are balanced by the heft
> provided by the likes of the historian Taylor Branch. All four of Mr.
> Belafonte¹s children as well as his second wife, Julie Belafonte, also appear
> intermittently to plug in some holes and gently hint at the cost that his busy
> life exacted on the family. (His third wife, Pamela, isn¹t interviewed.)
> Who were these people, his oldest, Adrienne, once wondered, tugging at her
> father?
> There¹s so much to take in ‹ including the perennial topic of celebrities as
> activists ‹ but Ms. Rostock doesn¹t linger long. She doesn¹t have the time
> and, as the years and milestones whoosh by, it¹s hard not to think if Mr.
> Belafonte¹s extraordinary story might have been better served as a television
> special or at least a movie with a longer running time. His 1959 variety show
> on CBS, ³Tonight With Belafonte,² which was sponsored by Revlon, is alone
> worth a longer, thoughtful look. Imagine what it must have been like to see
> and hear this seductive, beautiful black man singing intimately into the
> camera, invading homes across the country at a moment when segregation was
> still law. Mr. Belafonte won an Emmy for the show, the first African-American
> to win the award.
> The revelations keep coming in ³Sing Your Song² and it¹s hard not to go googly
> eyed when, for a 1963 CBS special, you see Mr. Belafonte discussing
> <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MruG888gH50>  the march on Washington with
> some fellow marchers, Mr. Poitier, Marlon Brando, James Baldwin, Charlton
> Heston and the film director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. What¹s startling isn¹t just
> the seriousness or level of discourse (and that they¹re smoking), but also
> their sincerity about effecting change at home. These days American stars tend
> to travel abroad ‹ say, to Sudan ‹ to do good works, perhaps because it¹s
> easier to be engaged far from the trivializing of the entertainment media.
> Here and elsewhere in the documentary you are made to feel that such
> involvement is deeply American and necessary.
> Poignantly ³Sing Your Song² loses its momentum and focus after the
> assassination of Dr. King, though it¹s hard to know whether Mr. Belafonte did
> too. The dates and causes start to blur, and the years and events,
> particularly as the early 1970s abruptly give way to the late 1970s,
> confusingly pile up. Mr. Belafonte¹s activism increasingly shifted to Africa,
> where he campaigned against hunger and inspired the making of the album and
> the video of ³We Are the World,² the maddeningly kitsch-catchy song that
> raised millions. He slowed down, lost his hair (it keeps coming and going in
> the contemporary interviews) and found new love, but he kept plugging away at
> his causes, his hopes and his dreams, walking his walk and talking his talk.
> Opens on Friday in New York and Pasadena, Calif.
> Directed by Susanne Rostock; edited by Ms. Rostock and Jason L. Pollard; music
> by Hahn Rowe; produced by Michael Cohl, Gina Belafonte, Jim Brown, William
> Eigen and Julius R. Nasso; released by S2BN Films. In Manhattan at the IFC
> Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running
> time: 1 hour 44 minutes. This film is not rated.

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