Documentary casts a spell

This unofficial biography is a respectful and fascinating look at the life of Nina Simone.


Director: Jeff L. Lieberman
Cast: Nina Simone
Rating: (M) 
Four stars (out of five)

Reviewed by: Christine Powley

There were two documentaries made last year about Nina Simone.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is the official one made with the assistance of her daughter, while The Amazing Nina Simone (Rialto) is the unofficial one. 

I have only seen The Amazing Nina Simone so I can not say which is better, but with a subject as multifaceted as Miss Simone any rundown of her life is bound to be of interest.

Born in 1933 into a musical family she stood out from an early age as especially gifted.

She dreamed of becoming the first black classical concert pianist and for a time it seemed her talent and dedication was going to win through. 

But being rejected for a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which she believed she missed because of racism, set her on another track.

Once she turned to the "devil’s music", success came relatively quickly, as did her reputation for being imperious. 

Although The Amazing Nina Simone is the unofficial documentary it is not particularly interested in listing all the lovers and all the fights. 

It is respectfully interested in her professional life and how it was influenced by her political views and later how her battle with mental illness impacted on her ability to control her career. 

For anyone who loves her music it is all endlessly fascinating and the seemingly bottomless treasure trove of performance footage puts a spell on you. 

My favourite shows Simone on Sesame Street singing Young, Gifted and Black to three clearly nervous children.


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