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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Music According to Tom Jobim (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 2011)

Earlier in the day before seeing Music According to Tom Jobim, a documentary-musical on the giant of Brazilian jazz-pop (and when has the word "pop" ever been more inappropriately inadequate?), I half-jokingly remarked to a colleague that the documentary was a dead genre. There's certainly enough ammunition to reinforce the argument, at least in observing how the documentary, once a dream of the medium's promise, has now been reduced to the status of glorified Powerpoint presentation, using unimaginative cutting either to grant undeserved confirmation of audience viewpoints or locating the most banal "story" in a heap of topical, zeitgeist-y footage and a hash of standard-gauge talking heads.

Nelson Pereira dos Santos's film provides a refreshing rebuke to my cynicism: it is almost completely free of the spoken word - instead a compilation of archival television and film footage of artists, all over the world, over the course of several decades, performing Jobim's melodies, in at least half a dozen languages. Dos Santos provides no context that isn't to be found simply by looking into the images and listening to the singers and musicians, performing against every imaginable backdrop, before every conceivable kind of audience, from a closed recording booth to an extravagant street parade that seems to stretch into infinity.

The cumulative effect, assuming you receive even a fraction of the pleasure the music is intended to give you (and there's quite a lot), is a "collage" structure that gradually becomes a string of beautiful, privileged musical moments, unfettered by the simulation of drama or pushpin historical context. A lovely adventure.

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