Movie Review ~ Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice


The Facts
:

Synopsis: With one of the most memorably stunning voices that has ever hit the airwaves, Linda Ronstadt burst onto the 1960s folk rock music scene in her early twenties.

Stars: Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt

Director: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  It’s one thing to see the toll the cruel progression of time can take on a person but it’s another experience all together to hear it.  For famous actors or people in the public eye, there can be ways both artificial and natural of slowing that march toward wrinkles.  If you’re a singer, though, there’s little that can be done to keep a clarion voice ringing out forever.  Think about it, how often have you been to a concert from a performer and wondered, “Gee, they just don’t have the range they used to.”  We’ve seen many voices sadly silenced too early due to reckless living but it’s the singers that have no control over their fading instrument that are especially tragic.

Timing-wise, the excellent new documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice came my way at a most opportune moment.  I’d just finished listening to a new double-CD of Ronstadt’s most famous songs and a number of lesser-known tunes that didn’t chart as high but still showcased her dynamic song stylings and killer voice.  I was surprised that I never made the connection at how many instantly recognizable songs Ronstadt leant her voice to.  With her wide range in vocals and interests, the singer spent decades at the top of her game, only to have her career cut short due to the gradual onslaught of a debilitating disease.

Directors Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman both bring a healthy experience in documentary film making, having amassed decades of work with topical subjects that are deeply rooted in human emotions. Epstein’s won two Oscars for his feature docs about the AIDS quilt and Harvey Milk and just last year Epstein and Friedman were nominated for an Academy Award for their short, End Game.  They are probably most noted for 1995’s The Celluloid Closet, showing the history of homosexuality depicted in Hollywood films.  Though their narrative feature Lovelace wasn’t as well received as it could have been, it showed they were capable of more than just telling stories via an investigative lens

Born the daughter of a machinery merchant and a homemaker, Ronstadt grew up in Arizona and was brought up with music ever-present.  From the Mexican folksongs her father taught her as well as the large library of records her family owned, she honed her musical gift by building her range in multiple styles.  By the time she joined the folk-rock group the Stone Poney’s in the mid-‘60s she was already creating a singular sound that set her apart from her contemporaries.  Rather rapidly advancing as a solo recording artist, she was still associated with many legendary artists of the day from The Doors to Jackson Browne to the men that would eventually form The Eagles.  Pretty much everything Ronstadt touched (or sang) turned to gold.

While Ronstadt was never a fading violet in terms of being outspoken and does contribute guiding narration to the film, she mostly lets Epstein & Friedman tell her story through interviews with her friends, family, and colleagues.  Considering Ronstadt’s time in the business and how many people she’s worked with, it’s a who’s-who of titans in the music industry…from recording executives to superstar artists.  Many seem in total awe not just in Ronstadt’s talent but in her humble persona, always preferring defer praise onto someone else.

Over the next four decades Ronstadt would earn multiple Grammy’s and even a Tony nomination for starring in the Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance.  While she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris on three CDs and made a duet with nearly every popular star of the day, it was always her solo songs that hit the biggest chord.  The term ‘rock chick’ was largely coined because of her and at one point she was the highest paid female singer in the music industry.  The power in her voice was unmatched and whether she was belting out a rock song or pulling it back to deliver a soft ballad, she had the ability to make any song her own.  Those interviewed for the doc speak of an artist they loved seeing perform, someone who was there for them onstage and off if they needed.

Retiring in 2011, there were rumors Ronstadt was having trouble with her voice and found it difficult to maintain her sound.  When she announced in 2013 she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and was unable to sing anymore, it was devastating for her fans across the world.  Being interviewed now, Ronstadt seems a bit unconvincingly resolute about her future…like she has grudgingly accepted some realities about her diagnosis.  Yet there’s still an aura of gratefulness around her, thankful for the time she was given, but clearly desiring more.

Epstein & Friedman pack the film with music and archival performances that demonstrate what a force Ronstadt was in her prime.  Thankfully, it’s not a warts and all feature so there’s little time spent on Ronstandt’s very public relationship with Governor Jerry Brown or any other kiss-and-tell diversions.  It appears Ronstadt was the rare artist that found her calling early on and kept her focus on quality instead of excess.  Near the end of the film,  Epstein & Friedman capture a moment Ronstadt as she is now in her home in San Francisco that gave me extreme goosebumps and a lump in my throat.

Movie Review ~ Lovelace

lovelace_ver4
The Facts
:

Synopsis: The story of Linda Lovelace, who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her coercive husband, before taking control of her life.

Stars: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Juno Temple, Wes Bentley, Hank Azaria, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Noth, Robert Patrick, James Franco, Eric Roberts, Adam Brody, Chloe Sevigny,

Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  This is the type of review that you hope your parents don’t read…because then you’ll have to admit you’ve seen Deep Throat and, well, will Sunday brunch ever be the same again?  So Mom, if you’re reading this (and, let’s face it, you probably opted for another round of Candy Crush instead) just know that I have seen the infamous adult film that made porno mainstream…but I watched it under duress, I swear.

The star of Deep Throat was Linda Lovelace and she didn’t fit the mold of the adult film.  Pretty but not desirably beautiful, she had one particular talent that earned her the starring role and gave the film its title.  Though she only worked in the porn industry for a total of 17 days, her legend would live on but her story hasn’t been told on screen until now.

It’s too bad then that, as presented by Lovelace, her story isn’t all that interesting or intriguing.  Though it pulls a Rashomon-style switcheroo ¾ of the way through, the movie can’t make…um…head or tails of its starry cast or soapy subject matter.  Turns out that Linda Lovelace was either a) a willing participant that rolled with the punches or b) a victim of abuse forced into a life of drugs and prostitution by her smarmy husband.  The film wants us to feel sorry for Linda so the “b” option is presented in a more heavy-hitting fashion but so much time is spent on the set-up of the “a” option that you leave the movie not really sure of where the truth falls on the spectrum of history.

Credit should be given to all involved for taking care with the period aspects of the film set in the 70’s and early 80’s.  The production design is restrained and just tacky enough to let us know feathered hair and bell bottoms didn’t look all that bad on the right person.  Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman come from the documentary world and one would think that they’d handle their narrative with a bit more efficiency and not as presentational as screenwriter Andy Bellin has made the biopic.

That leaves the cast to make some magic but strangely nothing seems to get their motors going.  Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables) has some nice moments in the last half of the film when we finally get to see a more vulnerable side of Linda but up until that point it’s not a very grounded character for her to work with.  Though the role is undeniably one-dimensional, as Linda’s husband, Peter Sarsgaard (Blue Jasmine) has never met a creep he can’t play to the hilt and that’s true here.  The rest of the supporting cast really are simply brief cameos as the 92 minute film can’t accommodate so many familiar faces with jettisoning some of their scenes (they should be thankful…Sarah Jessica Parker filmed her role as Gloria Steinem only to be excised in the editing room).  It was nice to see Sharon Stone, albeit in an awful wig from a community theater production of Grease, as Linda’s tough, gruff mother.

It’s not the revealing biography that it’s intended to be and honestly I can’t say I took anything of value away from the movie.  Though it’s interesting to get a behind the scenes look about that particular time in film history (however blue the films were), Lovelace leaves the audience unfulfilled.