Rebecca Redshaw's "SOFA CINEMA: An Easy Guide to DVDs Volume 1" will be published this fall. Read all her DVD reviews compiled in one book.
The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
"Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer"
Not as famous as her contemporary Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O'Day is no less respected in the jazz world. The documentary "Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer" not only is an excellent history lesson of the evolution of "girl" band singers, it offers an intimate portrait of life on the road long before television and "American Idol" made instant stars of mediocre talent.
Footage of an elderly O'Day reminiscing about her past is mixed with her sparkling, unique vocals of "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" as only she could sing them. The first artist to record on the Verve label, O'Day recorded albums and sang in clubs around the world and yet struggled with years of heroin addiction, failed marriages and an arrest for possession of marijuana.
But with O'Day, like so many musicians, the stage was her world and when she sang, all seemed right.
"Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer" is a wonderful opportunity to listen to a genius sing more than 30 songs as only she could.
"The Judy Garland Show: Volume One"
Possibly no pop singer was more famous in her time than Judy Garland. Her television show, digitally remastered and restored, aired on CBS-TV in 1963-1964 and had Jerry Van Dyke for comedy relief, musical guest stars including Mel Tormé and Count Basie and his band, and a very young Liza Minnelli. But the best thing the show had going for it was its star - Judy Garland.
Garland had the ability (and seeming willingness) to be vulnerable when singing. That's risky business in front of a live audience in the safest of environments but when she steps on to the empty soundstage and sings, "I Hear Music," the diva is in control and the subsequent addition of the rest of the Count Basie Band is musical magic.
Stiff competition from NBC's "Bonanza" nixed Judy's show after just one season. Luckily, all 26 shows are available with some of the era's brightest and biggest guest stars and, of course, Judy Garland.
The visual similarities between the actual women in the "Grey Gardens" documentary filmed in 1975 and the actors in HBO's "Grey Gardens" are eerie. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore eschew all glamour for realism and it pays off.
The documentary has become somewhat of a cult classic, sort of reality TV in art form. The HBO "Grey Gardens" has the advantage of fictionalized dialogue.
Edith Bouvier Beale's claim to fame was as Jacqueline Kennedy's aunt and Little Eddy (also named Edith) was Jackie's cousin. The family's estate in East Hampton, where the mother and daughter resided eventually, became a health hazard to the community after years of neglect. Feral cats were in abundance and as the house deteriorated, raccoons would wander in through gaping holes.
The fictionalized "Grey Gardens" had the cinematic advantage of flashbacks to better days for the two women, which added some insight as to how and why their lives deteriorated.
If you've ever envied how the other half lives, the squalor and sadness that permeate "Grey Gardens" might give you pause to enjoy life as you know it.
Rebecca Redshaw can be reached at r2redshaw@
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