Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 01, 2016 8:39 am 
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An intimate documentary about bossa nova from the source

NYC Cinema Slate opens Paulo Thiago's This is Bossa Nova on January 1, 2016 at Cinema Village in New York City. It's a unique documentary on the musical genre originally from 2005 whose original title is Coisa Mais Linda: Histórias e Casos da Bossa Nova (2005).

This is an introduction to music many of us love, but, if we're not Brazilian, may not know much about. It's so quietly insinuating, so understated, so relaxing, as natural as breathing, the breath of a Brazilian breeze. It's the most laid-back and understated music in the world, whispering about sand and beach and beautiful girls in lilting rhythms derived from syncopating samba, anchored (if that is not too strong a word) by a quiet guitar sound, graced by a soft nasal voice insinuatingly singing its dreamy lyrics. Anyone who even slightly follows jazz or Latin music knows Antônio Carlos Jobim's "Girl from Ipanema" and "Waters of March," and inded "Tom" Jobim was the presiding genius of bossa nova -- along with ‎João Gilberto (they gave a joint concert at Carnegie Hall in 1962 which helped put their music decisively on the international map). All this and more is explained in Paulo Thiago's deceptively understated documentary. Jobim and Gilberto are no longer around, but we meet many of the others who were there for the inception. Featured are Roberto Menescal and Carlos Lyra. Here is how popular Jobim is: the only musicians whose compositions have been more often recorded by others are the Beatles. And as he liked to point out, there were four of them!

It may have seemed a new thing in the early Sixties, when the first Rio concerts drew eager crowds, but it turns out its roots are deep in samba and go back to the Twenties and Thirties. The founders were middle class, and college students. Some of them played at night in apartments with thin walls, and one speaker thinks the style of singing is so soft because of complaining neighbors. Maybe so. This is not a scientific history but warmly anecdotal, a gathering of oldsters remembering their palmy days when it all began. There are some priceless clips of Sixties performances, and a number of brief performances filmed by Thiago. Other names that will mean more to us after watching this film are Astrud Gilberto, Nara Leão, Wanda Sá, Joyce, Vinicius de Moraes, and Vinícius collaborator Newton Mendonça. Also featured are Johny Alf, João Donato, Oscar Castro Neves, Bebeto and Leny Andrade, and Ronaldo Bôscoli. Songwriter and producer Nelson Motta, music critic Tárik de Souza Farhat, and the late journalist, writing and politician Arthur da Távola also comment in the film on the music and its role in Brazilian life.

It may be that "The Girl from Ipanema" and Black Orpheus formed our dreamy notion of Rio and Brazil back in the Fifties and Sixties. Grittier images have come from more realistic films since. Bossa nova also took on tougher subjects.

Jazz and bossa nova fed off each other. There's a wonderful brief clip showing Gerry Mulligan practicing a piece with Jobim, and a classic one of Sinatra, no slouch in the laid-back-ness department himself, performing "The Girl from Ipanema" with Jobim. Someone says jazz owed more to bossa nova than the reverse; but again, this is not hard science. Nor should it be.

This Is Bossa Nova, originally Coisa Mais Linda: Histórias e Casos da Bossa Nova ("A More Beautiful Thing: History and Stories of Bossa Nova"), 126 mins., debuted in Brazil 2 Sept. 2005; several festivals, including the Brazilian Film Festival of New York in August 2006. The new US release will spread to other regions after NYC. There is also a 2-disc UK DVD of this documentary with bonus materials, retitled as Bossa Brazil: Stories of Love, as indicated by an online review by CineOutsider.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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