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With: Anita O'Day, Amy Albany, Buddy Bregman, Charles Britton, David Boska, Ken Druker, Joe Franklin, Will Friedwald, Russel Garcia, Jim Gavin, Freeman Gunther, Bill Holman, Karen Kramer, Eddie Locke, Johnny Mandel, John Cameron Mitchell, Mark Morris, John Pietranowicz, Denny Roche, Annie Ross, Mary "Bunny" Sellers, Dr. Billy Taylor, George Win, Margaret Whiting, Joe Wielding, Gerald Wilson
Written by: Robbie Cavolina, Ian McCrudden
Directed by: Robbie Cavolina, Ian McCrudden
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/30/2007

Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sweet Anita

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Anita O'Day kept on singing when everything else around her was flattened. The superb jazz documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer is blessed with lengthy sit-down interviews with the singer herself -- a white girl from Chicago who earned comparisons to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald -- just before she died in November of 2006, at age 87. She talks frankly about her heroin addiction, and reveals the peculiar factoid that she lacked a uvula (it was accidentally hacked off during a routine tonsillectomy). Directors Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden include the usual documentary-style talking heads, but playfully frozen and packaged to look like album covers (John Cameron Mitchell, who used two O'Day tunes in Shortbus, adds some amusing comments). And the filmmakers' use of sliding panels keeps the music, facts and interviews flowing together. They dug deep for O'Day's performance footage, ranging from muddy television stuff to her mind-blowing rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown" that was happily filmed in Bert Stern's seminal documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959). That explosive performance brought her new fame and fortune -- just as the U.S. jazz craze began to die down. (And yes, she admits, she was high when she went on stage.)

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