the toxic addictions of a singer


Why do biopics often fall for the outrageous and redundant narrative? We remember the bloated production of Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), by Bryan Singer, about the legendary frontman of the Queen, despite Rami Malek’s stunning incarnation as Freddie Mercury. The same goes for Billie Holiday: a matter of state, by Lee Daniels. The intentions of the script are commendable, and the interpretation of singer Andra Day breathtaking.

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The film, adapted from the book Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari (2015), traces the struggle of the black jazz icon (1915-1959) in segregationist America, as the government tried to ban Billie Holiday from singing Strange Fruit, her favorite piece denouncing the lynching of blacks – she began to interpret it in 1939. The previous biopic on the singer, Lady Sings the Blues (1972), by Sidney J. Fury, with Diana Ross in the title role, did not widen the political furrow as much.

Lee Daniels’ film was therefore promising, but the staging is sinful by an overabundance of scenes chronicling the star’s pangs: his drug addiction, his toxic relationships with men, and how the government uses these two “loopholes. To bring it down. Guaranteed show on the screen, sex and intravenous heroes at all times. Not to mention the most awkward montage of archival documents and film images in black and white, then in color. Some lovers lend themselves to dirty tricks by hiding drugs in the clothes “Billie” wears. And hop ! in the second that follows, the police arrive to observe the flagrante delicto, as in a bad soap opera …

Ignoble cabal

With it, all shots are allowed. One man, Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, wants to show that black people, drugs and jazz are corrupting America. Billie is at the heart of the target. To reach her, Anslinger asks a black agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), to infiltrate the singer’s circle of relatives. What Anslinger hadn’t planned was for Fletcher to fall in love with her. But this romance was not enough to save “Lady Day”, who, according to legend, died in 1959, at the age of 44, on her hospital bed, surrounded by federal agents. If we really want to understand the despicable cabal of which the singer ofAll of Me, the documentary by James Erskine, Billie (2020), is a good alternative.

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