Friday, November 13, 2009

Fados, Carlos Saura, Zeitgeist Video

Should win an Oscar. I had expected Fados, a new documentary film by Carlos Saura, to be a documentary about Portuguese fado music in the same, traditional sense as Calle 54 or The Buena Vista Social Club, excellent documentaries respectively covering Latin jazz (generally) and Cuban jazz (in particular). But Fados, while an excellent documentary about fado from my perspective, is more like a performance by the pianist Jason Moran I saw at Chicago's Orchestra Hall in 2007. Moran mixed multimedia elements, such as archival film and slides, employed both literally and impressionistically, and live music to document the story of Thelonious Monk's famous large-group Town Hall concert, the development of the music played in that concert, the role of the Jazz Loft and its denizens in the process, and Moran's own musical roots in Monk. Fados likewise weds some stunning live performances of the music with archival film, stills and other multimedia elements to outstanding effect. The archival film in the movie "chapter" that serves as a tribute to Amália Rodrigues, the most famous of fadistas, is as gripping as fado music itself tends to be when sung by Amália; I shed tears.

But Fados, unlike the Moran performance, also liberally employs live dance to illuminate the history, development and currency of fado and, as with the multimedia elements, quite effectively whether literal (the chapter Homage to Lucília do Carmo is a marvelous drama executed in dance and music that clearly illustrates the story told by the words of the song) or impressionistic. I've seen Fados likened in at least one review to a series of music videos and each of its 18 chapters could, in fact, stand as miniature film on its own. Still, taken together they make a whole that I think captures the essence of the music. You may not walk away ready to win a fado trivia contest, but you will walk away with a genuine feel for the beauty and meaning of fado.

Of course, the music is central to the film and there are some wonderful performances in it, Mariza, today's Amália, dueting with Miguel Povda on Meu Fado Meu, veteran fadistas Carlos do Carmo singing Hombre en la Ciudad (Man in the City) and Argentina Santos singing at all (she's 90), Lila Downs in Homage to Lucília. One of my favorite segments is House of Fados, in which a group of fadistas in the kind of hole-in-wall Lisbon club I must experience essentially engage in a cutting contest. Willie "the Lion" Smith and Luckey Roberts would likely have appreciated it, and the music, too.

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