You're never going to mistake Ella Fitzgerald for another voice, and though a new documentary about the singer is an interesting enough look back over a storied career, it's what we might call an "eat your vegetables" kind of experience.
Director Leslie Woodhead (Diana: The Day Britain Cried) gives us the inside scoop on Fitzgerald, from her early days at the Apollo Theater to touring with drummer Chick Webb, hooking up with manager Norman Granz to delve into the Great American Songbook, facing racism, love issues, late-in-life happenings and more. Through interviews with family, friends and descendants of those who were there—plus TV performances and interview footage, old recordings and radio appearances—we're not only reminded that Fitzgerald sang flawlessly (seriously, though—flawlessly), we're reminded that America's long-standing issues with racism have pretty much always intersected with white folks' fascination with Black culture.
Even at the height of her powers, Fitzgerald struggled to break into the mainstream (it took Marilyn Monroe promising to attend nightly shows for Fitzgerald to get out of the small jazz club circuit and onto theater stages), and even as a post-WWII America ravenously bought up her albums, she never quite got the credit she was due while she was alive. After her death, sadly, is a different story, and her contributions to jazz, bebop and improvisational singing are, of course, well-documented.
Still, Woodhead doesn't give newcomers much of a reason to care, and the facts and information fly at us at breakneck speed. If one does their homework prior to watching It's Just One of Those Things, they're bound to find a lot to love, but it's hard to recommend to those unfamiliar with jazz, torch songs and/or the music of the era. In other words, if you already love this woman, Woodhead's doc will cement it further. If you don't, however, you're not likely to find this film, let alone let it wash over you. This isn't a good thing, of course, but the hallmark of a really powerful documentary is in its ability to teach us something new…this one practically screams "We all love Ella? Good."
+What a voice! Fab footage
-Nothing new; ultimately bland
Ella Fitzgerald: Just one of Those Things
Directed by Woodhead
CCA Virtual, NR, 89. min.