New to DVD: “Anita O’Day-The Life of a Jazz Singer”

07lgmovodayrev2I remember going to see the documentary “Anita O’Day – The Life of a Jazz Singer” at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.  Before the movie started a woman seated next to me turned and asked, “So, are you a fan?”  I replied that I was a fan of good documentaries.  She gave me a look that seemed to say, “How dare you come to a documentary about Anita O’Day and not be a fan.”  I responded to her look by telling her that a good documentary should be able to take a topic about which I have little or no interest and make it interesting.  We did not speak again.

“Anita O’Day – The Life of a Jazz Singer” is a fast paced, highly entertaining portrait of one of the top women jazz singers of the Golden Age of Jazz.  Just as jazz requires its performers to improvise on stage, living the “jazz” life means improvising your life and O’Day (who passed away in November 2006) did just that.  From heroin addiction (her drug convictions only increased her bookings), two bad marriages and a botched tonsillectomy that left her only able to sing eighth notes, Anita O’Day is up there with Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn.

The film zips along improvising itself with multiple split screens, shifting colors and interviews with Jazz historians, musicians and O’Day herself from different points in her life including her last few years in an assisted living residence.  There are many great anecdotes such as the time O’Day stepped out of a club saying she needed a breath of fresh air and called the club’s manager five years later from the Philipines asking for money to get home.

My previously stated criteria for a good documentary certainly bears me out in this case, my seat neighbor’s opinion notwithstanding.  “Anita O’Day – The Life of a Jazz Singer” is a great film for jazz fans, and for those who appreciate well made documentaries, alike.

“Anita O’Day-The Life od  Jazz Singer,” directors Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden, 2007,

AOD Productions, Elan Entertainment, 90 minutes


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 22, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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