On December 28, 1895, the first silent film by the Lumière brothers premiered in Paris. When the live music pianist sounded the first note, the two art forms – film and music started their wonderful relationship till now. All along the journey, the two occasionally intertwined and generated exciting artistic sparks, including those music documentaries featuring outstanding music pieces and musicians.
Today, the 21st Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) released the second screening list for documentary panorama, which consists of five completely different music documentaries. They come from different countries, touch upon different musical forms, and record different objects, but they have at least one thing in common -- the five have all realized the perfect combination of video and music. Either a fan in music or cinema can enjoy an extraordinary artistic experience on the big screen of SIFF.
Fans obsessed with classic jazz must not miss BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES, for it is a pilgrimage to music legacy; audience who loves opera will absolutely be appealed by “the greatest soprano in the 20th century”, and enjoy her singing in MARIA BY CALLAS; to folk song enthusiasts, welcome to STAMMERING BALLAD to smell the yellow soil in Northwest China and see the unbridled life of singer Ga Song; HAVANA DIVAS is even more legendary, a touching story of two Cuban old ladies fulfilling their Cantonese Opera dream; if you are crazy about rock music, come and watch IN PRAISE OF NOTHING which is narrated by punk pioneer Iggy POP, a perfect match between smoky voice and poetic footage.
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes
Directed by: Sophie HUBER
Country/ region: USA
As long as you are a jazz lover, you won’t be unfamiliar with “Blue Note Records” - the American jazz record label established in 1939, one of the most legendary record companies in the history of western modern music. Jazz musicians such as Miles DAVIS, Thelonious MONK, John COLTRANE, and Bud POWELL all gained success and fame in Blue Note Records. The company owns a prestigious status in the history of jazz, with high reputation even in China.
Therefore, to watch BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES will definitely be a pilgrimage for jazz fans. It explores the stories behind the Blue Note Records: how it encourages musicians to stay innovative and initiative. Some of the rare files and videos that are unknown to the public will also be made public in the film. The film reviews the careers of jazz masters and interviews many musicians, including the well-known jazz singer Norah JONES, and an array of contemporary jazz artists such as Lou DONALDSON, Herbie HANCOCK, Wayne Shorter, among others. Listening to them recalling their stories with Blue Note Records, is absolutely a precious experience for jazz fans.
Maria by Callas
Directed by: Tom VOLF
Country/ region: France
Maria CALLAS was regarded as the greatest soprano in the 20th century, having performed in hundreds of operas throughout her life. Her repertoire ranged from light coloratura soprano to the strongest dramatic part, organically combing extremely dramatic and flexible singing techniques. CALLAS was popular all over the world for her vibrant voice, almost reaching the top that no one else could match. She had played an important role in “reviving” Italian opera in the early 19th century, as well as developing and innovating the art of opera performance.
MARIA BY CALLAS presents CALLAS’s artistic career and life in the form of a documentary, truly depicting the road to growth and success of a contemporary female artist. For the singer who passed away in 1977, the film uses a large number of historical footages to show some important fragments of her life and career. Notably, the film is incorporated with very precious data, including some rare videos taken by the musician’s friend with Super 8 camera, as well as some of her personal letters. In addition, this film didn’t interview any connected person, but choosing to build itself up with first-hand information, in a lively and vivid way.
Directed by: ZHANG Nan
Country/ region: Mainland China
In the era we live, everyone is a stranger. This is a story of a young man from Northwest China, slightly stammering and afraid of losing his “rural nature”, bringing his folk song music to big cities and finally choosing to go home. STAMMERING BALLAD is an important work presented by CNEX this year. The crew followed the Chinese folk musician Ga Song to record how he created his album during the collection in Northwestern China, and reproduce his performance in a small venue.
Ga Song grows up in the countryside of Jingyuan County, Baiyin, Gansu Province. His father is a fan of music and likes singing Shaanxi folk opera; his uncle is a musician who knows how to play various folk instruments. Immersed in such an environment, he has a special liking for local folk music. Each of Ga Song’s songs is a story of his childhood in his hometown, or something that happened around him. One music critic said his music is “dug out” from earth. Over the years, he has traveled many places and experienced many things, but his original intention of writing hometown stories and singing Northwestern songs has never changed. Ga Song’s life experience indicates the rapid switch between rural culture and urban culture in recent decades in China. His music is full of simplicity and humor. The profound poetic touch and balanced editing make the film an excellent music documentary.
Directed by: S. Louisa WEI
Country/ region: Hong Kong, China
Two old Cuban ladies, aged over 80, are performing authentic Cantonese opera on the stage, and the young people who is playing a small role is a black youth... The scene in the documentary HAVANA DIVAS is quite intriguing. However, to the older generation of Chinese in the Americas, the two Havana divas, Caridad Amaran and Georgina Wong, have long been known.
The relationship between Cuba and Cantonese Opera dates back to the middle and late 19th century. At the time, a large number of Cantonese people went overseas to work in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and North America, including Cuba in the Caribbean. In the 1930s and 1940s, a community of hundreds of thousands of residents was built in Cuba, supporting a number of opera companies. Caridad Amaran has pure Cuban ancestry. Her father passed away just after her birth. She has to follow her mother, drifting around the Chinatown in Havana, where she is adopted by a Chinese. Her stepfather is obsessed with Chinese opera, so he sent Caridad to learn opera when she was young. At the age of 15, she became a celebrity actress in the opera troupe, while Georgina Wong, whose father is Chinese, was also a member of the troupe.
A few years later, the troupe life was interrupted by Castro's 1959 revolution. Caridad Amaran made a living as a waitress. Georgina Wong went to college, and became a diplomat after graduation. The two reunited several decades later and relived their dream of Cantonese Opera. This story was discovered by the photographer Pok Chi LAU, and then widely circulated. HAVANA DIVAS takes us with these two on long-dreamed visits to China, and also presents the life of Chinese people in Cuba for more than half a century.
In Praise of Nothing
Directed by: Boris MITIC
Country/ region: Serbia/ France/ Croatia
IN PRAISE OF NOTHING is a very stylized piece. Rather than a documentary, it's better to call it as an artwork. The film presents a series of documentary images filmed all over the world by 62 cinematographers, with each frame comparable to a photography work! IN PRAISE OF NOTHING does not have a story line. Instead, it uses simple verse to string up each fragmentary picture, filling them with aroma of philosophy and arts.
The first-person perspective runs through the movie, and the narrator is the rock star Iggy POP. The godfather of punk music was a huge hit in the 1960s and 1970s, having affected many punk bands and artists in later generations with his pioneering spirit. Most interestingly, the theme of IN PRAISE OF NOTHING has nothing to do with punk rock. What Iggy POP does is reading some conceptual verses in his iconic low-pitched voice. The pleasant soundtrack in the film naturally blends in with the poetic images. If you are a culture and arts lover bold enough to touch the boundaries of art and have a special liking for experimental works, you will definitely love IN PRAISE OF NOTHING.