What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: Liz Garbus
  • Cast: Elisabeth Henry-Macari, Nina Simone, Lisa Simone Kelly, James Baldwin, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite


A documentary about the life and legend Nina Simone, an American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist labeled the “High Priestess of Soul.”

One review

  • (Rating: ☆☆☆½ out of 4)

    Both films are highly recommended.

    In brief: A pair of engrossing documentaries show two talented performers going to extremes to create and self destruct.

    GRADE: B+

    What Happened, Miss Simone? by Liz Garbus, follows the highs and (mostly) lows of jazz stylist Nina Simone’s career. The documentary covers similar ground as we watch the downward spiral of yet another performer. Talented at a young age and trained as a classical pianist, Nina Simone fought against poverty and prejudice to make her mark in the music industry. Miss Simone was a manic depressive performer on the road to fame and fortune. She dealt with an abusive family member, her husband and manager Andrew Stroud, had numerous bouts with alcohol, and had violent mood swings amid her frequent mental disorders. At the peak of her career, her finances were a shamble as was her marriage and she became an advocate for the civil rights movement, although her methods became extremely volatile and radicalized in her later years.   
    This documentary (never distributed in regional movie theaters and available now online) uses her concert performances and more archival footage from famous celebrities like Hugh Hefner, Dick Gregory, and Stokely Carmichael to narrate Miss Simone’s turbulent life. But the most effective interview comes from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly who narrates the film with a grace and understanding that is genuinely moving. She eloquently reflects back on her life memories about an unhappy home and a mentally ill mother incapable of loving her unconditionally.

    Ms. Garbus, the director, offers numerous songs from her repertoire that highlight the talented jazz vocalist, but too often the filmmaker sacrifices these vivid live performances and never plays out the entire concert piece which undercuts the essence of Miss Simone legend. (There is a segment with Miss Simone singing Janis Ian’s Stars that is so visceral and raw in its brilliance.) There are also some gaps about certain times in her life that would have been more riveting if the filmmaker have been granted more access to the early archives of this singer. Nevertheless, the film chronicles her career with priceless musical moments and tells a gripping story of a woman who found fame and fortune but lost her way to find real happiness.

    What Happened, Miss Simone? is a riveting documentary that becomes a glowing tribute to this fine artist who overcame so many hardships in her sad turbulent life.

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