Liz Garbus‘ What Happened, Miss Simone? is a sad, absorbing, expertly assembled doc about the legendary Nina Simone (1933-2003), one of the greatest genius-level jazz-soul singers of the 20th Century as well as a classically trained pianist extraordinaire. Garbus is obviously a huge Simone fan, and she makes her case for — draws you into — this flawed, impassioned artist with skill and flair. Pic opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night at the Eccles.
So Garbus’ film has the expertise and the feeling and the spirit. No one who sees it will leave feeling under-nourished. But I also found What Happened, Miss Simone? irksome because of several biographical facts that Garbus inexplicably leaves out. (Her birth year, the cause of her death, her first marriage, a shooting incident, etc.) I also found Simone herself a bit of a hurdle. Her lack of respect and reverence for her extraordinary singing gifts as well as a general indifference to the basics of maintaining a healthy career is perplexing and even alienating. Maybe it’s me but it’s hard to warm up to, much less feel a kinship with, haughty aloofness, a hair-trigger temperament and self-destructive behavior.
But oh, those pipes, that phrasing, that style…that magnificent, touched-by-God aura.