Music biopics – both documentaries and narrative features – are a dime a dozen these days. Even if your only claim to fame is cult status as a 1970s folksinger, chances are good someone has made a movie about you. That is, unless you’re a woman. Although 2013’s “Twenty Feet from Stardom” put the spotlight on ladies in music, biopics about female musical artists are still few and far between. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking out these three documentaries about groundbreaking female singers that were released this summer. Happily, there are plenty of other reasons to do so as well.
“The Outrageous Sophie Tucker”
Few know who she is these days but in 1962, ninety-two percent of people polled associated the name “Sophie” with “Tucker.” That’s how popular the eponymous singer and comedian used to be in vaudeville, cinema, and television. A Ukrainian Jew who fled a restrictive Orthodox family, she first made her name performing in the Ziegfeld Follies but quickly became known in her own right as a larger-than-life presence in every sense of that term. Through rare footage and interviews with Carol Channing, Paul Anka, Michael Feinstein, Tony Bennett, and Barbara Walters (whose father Lou headlined Tucker in his nightclubs), director William Gazecki paints a portrait of the woman who referred to herself as “the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.” Gazecki’s filmmaking is not especially innovative but this may work in his favor. It’s best to let the details about this pioneering woman speak for themselves: She was a self-marketing genius half a century before Madonna; a fat activist before Ms. Magazine was a twinkle in Gloria Steinem’s eye; an unabashed civil rights advocate, especially when it came to singers like Josephine Baker; a pal to the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover (the closeted cross-dresser asked to borrow her spangled gowns); and a highly sexualized being who had three husbands to her name and, this documentary suggests, many female lovers as well. She also was a highly innovative jazz stylist who mentored Mae West and Judy Garland. Bottom line: See this movie to know exactly who you should be thanking, ladies and germs. Continue Reading →