Classic Movie Review: What Happened Miss Simone?

Posted: March 6, 2016 in Documentary
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what happened miss simone

A documentary on the life of blues singer Nina Simone.

This movie was an education for me, I knew nothing about Nina Simone, or her music, and I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about music and the Civil Rights Movement, so it’s worth watching for the educational value alone,  But it’s also a difficult film to watch, because she was fighting for political change while trying to be an entertainer, and fighting personal problems and her own demons, so the viewer will feel all kinds of emotions toward this woman, sympathy, pride, honor and anger all at once.  So I went from knowing nothing about Nina Simone to being proud of her accomplishments, to being enraged by her, and then finally feeling sorry for her.  Again, like the documentary Amy on Amy Winehouse, this movie takes no sides, on her political views, on her personal and professional problems, it just presents her life the way it was, and lets the viewer sort out his or her feelings about her. The public often want athletes or musicians to take a stand on the hot button political issues, this movie shows the actual effect of taking  a political stand, and the toll it took on Nina Simone’s life.   There was also the question of exploitation, by her first manager, and subsequent managers, which also helps to emotionally charge this documentary.  After all the turmoil portrayed in this film, is it worth watching?  Most certainly it is. The title of the film refers to a line in a Maya Angelou essay on Simone.

There is nothing groundbreaking in the technique that director Liz Garber uses, news footage, concert footage and voiceovers.   But the interviews she includes in the film including Simone’s ex-husband, her daughter and Simone herself, paint an intimate and sometimes painful portrait of Nina Simone, which earned this film an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature.  I was sure Amy would win for best documentary feature, but now I’m not so sure, I hope one of them wins.

What Happened Miss Simone?   Plenty.

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