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Genius of Lady Day
Genius of Lady Day
Actor: Billie Holiday
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, African American Cinema
NR     2004     1hr 5min


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Movie Details

Actor: Billie Holiday
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, African American Cinema
Sub-Genres: Pop, Rock & Roll, Holiday, Billie, Jazz, Other Music, African American Cinema
Studio: Jazz Memories Spain
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 09/07/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 5min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Import
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Awful Quality, But Content Still Shines
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 11/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This DVD is strictly for Billie Holiday fans. The audio quality for most of the tracks is fine, but the video quality ranges from marginally acceptable to very, very poor. For these reasons, it is unlikely that the disc will be appreciated by anyone other than true fans of Billie Holiday.

However, it does offer several video performances not available elsewhere. When I first spotted this in the store, and the packaging promised a short feature of Billie with Count Basie, I simply couldn't believe it. But I took it home and, sure enough, there it was. Many of the other video clips are also unavailable elsewhere. Many of the film clips are complete, and others just offer a few precious bars.

There is a short clip of Billie singing just a single verse of "My Man". She sings the phrase, "He isn't true, he beats me too" and the camera pans to the audience, revealing the laughing face of Louis McKay, the user / loser who was the last of several abusive men in her life. The appearance of Mr. McKay is startling to say the least; as any true fan of Billie Holiday knows, he was hardly a knight in shining armor, and that fact that the camera catches him smiling as she sings the words, "He beats me too" literally sent chills down my spine. It's just one of many surprises that this disc has to offer.

Among the other interesting clips is one of Billie singing "Travelin' Light" with Mal Waldron. She is in poor voice, but looks absolutely lovely, and, like several of the other clips, the song is presented complete.

But the highlight of the video for me was the two songs with Count Basie, God Bless the Child and Now Baby or Never. Especially in the latter number, Now baby or Never. Even though the video quality is atrocious, we get a good sense of the true genius of Lady Day (hence, this video is aptly named). During that clip, the long shots are so fuzzy that you can hardly make out Billie as she swings her way through the number, but, the clip also contains several wonderful if brief close-ups, and we get a glimpse of the facial expressions and expert styling that was Lady Day at her finest. Like the famous clip of her singing Fine and Mellow from the Sound of Jazz special, it manages to convey a small part of what a live performance of Lady day must have been like. One can only imagine, of course, how much more effective she was in her prime, as there is no surviving video record of her prior to 1950 (except the 1935 short with Duke Ellington, which is included here, and the 1947 feature film, New Orleans, and neither of those were filmed before a live audience in a club or theatre). The result is that this video really does live up to its name, if one can just manage to get past the extremely poor video quality of the film clips. This is not a DVD for those whose appreciation of this great artist is either marginal or casual. But if you are a true lover of Billie Holiday's craft, you will find that it's certainly a worthy and at times exciting addition to your library.
Bio gets eclipsed by the extra features ...
J. Lund | SoCal, USA | 01/24/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This collection seems to have become available via several different international labels recently. At first glance, the selling point for GENIUS is a documentary about Lady Day's life. Clocking in at approx. 30 minutes, you're obviously getting the bare-bones version of a complex individual's life, skimming over her life story with some of the better-known facts about her upbringing and career, and with an emphasis on photos and film clips of the singer rather than interviews. A competent overview, but I've seen better video bios elsewhere.

For Holiday fans the main course of this DVD lies in the bonus features. Some of the menus aren't too enlightening (e.g., the discography, bibliography, lyrics to "Strange Fruit," and a list of the tunes she wrote or co-wrote). Yet the DVD is largely redeemed by a collection of rare Lady Day footage, mostly from the two-year period prior to her death in 1959. While Billie is not in top form either vocally or in her physical appearance -- some clips show her off better than others -- she remains captivating to the point where you don't want to take your eyes off her for a second. Some of the video is pretty rough in quality, though (so buyer beware), and many of the clips are roughly edited together.

I've always been a big fan of her final, early-1959 appearance. Though only months away from her death, she looks quite well and sounds as good as she got this late in her career. Lastly is the complete 17-minute 1950 Count Basie short feature (in watchable yet only fair quality), with Billie looking and sounding in fine form on two numbers. Child piano prodigy "Sugar Chile" Robinson practically steals the show with some entertaining boogie-woogie and banter with Basie, who closes the show with one big-band number. If nothing else, this DVD gets some rare clips in circulation. Fans and collectors should take notice, while others should be aware that there are many better examples of Billie's singing in print, particularly reissued on CDs."
Slapdash editing
J. Schouweiler | Seoul, Korea | 02/01/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)

"For those of you who are considering the purchase of this DVD, I have one piece of advice: don't! A high school film class could have done a better job of putting this thing together.

For starters, the main portion of the video is only 27 minutes long. Next, the video resolution is so poor in some sections as to be almost worthless. Additionally, the audio was set far too low; even with my television volume at maximum, it's still barely audible.

The famous cut of Billie with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Ben Webster is included. However, it's interrupted with annoying commentary and spliced up throughout the film. There are some interesting extras, but again, the video and audio quality on some of them is truly awful.

I've seen far better specials about Billie on TV. Save your money and time. Give this a miss."