Summer’s already almost over, and once again, all the uncrossed items on my “Summer Reading” list will soon be labeled “Books I’ll (Hopefully) Get to in the Fall … or Before I Die.” Instead, I’ve been binging on ice cream and on-demand viewing. Not a pretty picture, really, but at least the ice cream’s local and I’ve been watching some rather classy documentaries, like …
What Happened, Miss Simone? This Netflix doc tells a common story about an extraordinary woman. A gifted classical pianist turned reluctant pop star, Nina Simone got stuck in an abusive relationship, popped pills to handle a hectic work life and demanded silence from her ever-growing, enthusiastic audience. “I just wanted them to listen to the music, like they did in the classical world,” she says, defending her choice to leave the stage if people didn’t shut up. “If they couldn’t listen, f*ck it.” Like Amy and Montage of Heck, two recently released docs about Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain, respectively, Miss Simone presents a legendary talent who’s both showbiz victim and case study in self-destruction. Even if you know exactly where this oft-told story is headed, the performance footage is spellbinding. Simone summoned entire storms with stillness—eyes closed, fingers lightly grazing her piano, lips barely moving as she sings.
Dior and I Watching a fashion documentary whilst sucking down a pint of Red Raspberry Revolution might seem like a toxic combination, but this behind-the-scenes account of how Belgian designer Raf Simons created a haute couture collection in just eight weeks left me feeling blissed-out and fabulous. It’s remarkably low-key for a fashion doc, with minimal drama (Simons having a slight “Don’t you know who I am” moment with a seamstress is as bitchy as it gets) and only one carnival-esque moment (the appearance of Donatella Versace). Otherwise, it’s all about craft and process, how teams convert ideas into beauty. And the ace soundtrack (Aphex Twin, Caribou, The Orb) makes the final results genuinely transcendent. I was inspired enough to get off the couch and change into a new undershirt.
Do I Sound Gay? Have you ever been mortified by the sound of your own voice? Writer-director David Thorpe always hated the nasal, fey tone of his voice, so he decided to see a speech therapist about it—and bring some cameras along. He also spoke with Dan Savage, David Sedaris, Tim Gunn and other gay luminaries about their own voice-related neuroses, like the paranoia of sounding too feminine and the misguided relief that comes if someone implies you sound “normal.” But though Thorpe gains self-confidence—by sharpening of vowels (his Os, in particular) and not delivering statements as if they were questions—he can’t quite shake the gay from his vocal chords. Do I Sound Gay? is a charming, funny lesson about how we can’t change who we are, just the way we feel about ourselves.