By James Erskine
American movie, 1 hour 32 minutes
Billie Holiday’s short life can be read as absolute melodrama. A Baltimore girl born to a 13-year-old maid, teenage prostitute, exploited by men, addicted to drugs, subjected to incredibly violent racism, arrested yet again on the bed of hospital where she died at 44 in 1959. It is also the novel of extraordinary artistic resilience, Billie becoming the singer of the century, the most radiant and heartbreaking voice ever heard.
This very impressive documentary balances the tragedy of his life and the splendor of his art. It draws on the rich material collected in the 1960s by American journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl. Fascinated by Billie, she sees in her “All the beauty, all the misery”.
Happy on stage, playful with her musicians
Charles Mingus Tony Bennett, Sylvia Syms, Count Basie, John Hammond, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Artie Shaw, Louis Armstrong… have crossed his path. Some talk, others refuse, or insult Linda who interviews the diva’s family, her pimps, her lovers, her lawyers, her musicians, and even the FBI agents who arrested her! From her suffocating plunge into the personal hell of her star, she draws 200 hours of audio testimony, but tragically dies after eight years of research.
Haunted by two ghosts, that of Lady Day and that of the journalist who died telling her story, James Erskine’s film lights up when Billie Holiday sings. Happy on stage, player with her musicians, she shines on God Bless the Child, or The Blues are Brewin. Billie allows you to listen to his phrasing of exceptional delicacy, to admire again his radiant presence. Strange Fruit, cry of horror against racism, which she interprets in front of the camera, vibrating with suffering, with tears in her eyes, has the effect of an explosion.