Even as cinemas begin to run in Singapore, plenty of new films continue to appear online. One of the most exhilarating forms of the medium has been the ones addressing the realm of music — from sterling biopics to raw documentaries, it has added another dimension to the works and artists we love.
The genre continues to ride high in 2021, where there are plenty of films coming out portraying the musical minds at work. From uncovering a summer of joyous Black music previously abandoned in the annals of history, to documentaries picking up the stories behind bedroom pop gems, here’s what you need to catch this year.
The United States vs Billie Holiday
Although an iconic figure in music history, it’s startling to think that Hollywood has not fully delved into the life of Billie Holiday on the silver screen. Other than 1972’s ‘Lady Sings The Blues’, with the jazz singer portrayed by Diana Ross, and 2019’s documentary ‘Billie’, it appears that there hasn’t been a creative team up to the task of unraveling the complicated and tragic life of the singer — and, as history tells us, it has taken some time for the right people to tell multi-faceted stories of African-American individuals.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday seems primed to tap into this, not just by delivering a by-the-numbers biopic made for the Oscars, but by zeroing into a pivotal part of her career that turned life-threatening. ‘Strange Fruit’, the stirring ballad addressing the unconscionable violence towards African-Americans at the time, drew the attention of the FBI, who used their insidious authority to prevent the singer from performing the song. With the film now available to watch online, reviews have been mixed — but you can at least expect a stirring performance from Andra Day, who takes up the mantle to portray the artist.
Summer of Soul
Despite the all-encompassing influence that music by African-American artists has had through the decades, it’s no secret that it has been the target of prejudicial suppression by institutional powers. This is painted in vivid widescreen in Summer of Soul, the directorial debut of musician Questlove. While an investigation into the reasons of the historical obscurity of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which drew large audiences and marquee names such as Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, and BB King, it’s also a pure celebration of its existence.
Much can be said about how, despite happening in the same summer that birthed the generation-defining Woodstock Festival, this event has not been given the same due. In Summer of Soul, Questlove attempts to shine a new light on music history by recovering long-untouched footage and interviewing artists from the festival’s jaw-dropping line-up. While the film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January, details have yet to be revealed about its official public release. However, as it’s been officially picked up by streaming services Hulu and Disney, we can expect it to arrive on our home screens sooner than we think.
Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry
Over the past three years, the meteoric rise of Billie Eilish has been stunning to witness. The story of bedroom pop singer-turned-stadium artist is now becoming the norm, but the story of Billie Eilish is undoubtedly unique — in how her family has been innately involved in not just developing her career, but creating a space for the then-16-year-old to properly flourish in a convoluted environment like the music industry’s.
Just as how the singer has made headway in redefining how women in pop get to frame themselves in the public eye, the documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry provides the kind of insight that avoids any form of sensationalism. In a summation of her commercial success as-of-yet, the film begins with Eilish achieving virality on Soundcloud with her song ‘Ocean Eyes’ before cutting to footage of the singer performing it in front of a live audience. As much as 2020 continues to impact artists, this film will stand as a monument to the dreams and aspirations that younger would-be artists continue to work for.
(No trailer revealed yet)
In the midst of quarantine last year, Charli XCX surprised the pop world when she dropped How I Feel Now, a collection of future-facing pop songs that embraced vulnerability in the face of volatility. A left-turn from the defiant career statement made in 2019’s Charli, what stunned fans further was the revelation that the entire production process — which happened in Charli’s bedroom — was captured and edited into a feature-length film, now titled Alone Together.
With what was a captivating album where Charli explored intimacy in a world of isolation, the film will depict the process of the inward journey that led to its vivid creation. “The documentary tells the story of not only the 5 week process surrounding the making of my album, how i’m feeling now, but also all the emotions that creating, connecting and living in a quarantine and in basically a new world evokes for people across the globe,” she says about Alone Together. While a release date is unconfirmed, the film is set to premiere at this year’s virtual SXSW later this month.
While they have been active since the early 1970s, it truly seems like 2021 is primed to be another benchmark year for Sparks, the eccentric art rock duo. Making fun, theatrical music that’s both acerbic and electric — they’ve spanned their careers exploring the unique sounds of new wave, glam rock, disco, classical music, and down-and-dirty indie rock — they’ve maintained a cult fanbase through the decades.
This year, however, might just open them up to a newer audience. Notwithstanding the upcoming documentary of the duo’s legacy in The Sparks Brothers, directed by lifelong fan Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Hot Fuzz), Annette is a musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard that will feature all-new material from them.
No matter the precedent set in their work, it’s difficult to predict what the film — which centres the tale of a stand-up comedian and his soprano wife — will entail. And this is considering it’s directed by Leos Carax, the enfant terrible of French cinema — his last film, Holy Motors, was a sprawling artsy adventure that featured a shapeshifting actor on a mysterious mission who kidnaps Eva Mendes along the way. Digest that information however you will.