Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ZZZZzzzz as in Zen

Regular readers here already know that I'm no fan of Tony Bennett.  For that, I can thank my grandmother who had a very special disdain for this guy.

"Oooh, I hate that ugly mug.  What a big schnozzola."

Oh, and she didn't like his singing, either.

"Big showoff.  If I couldn't do better than that, I wouldn't try."

Of course, as a kid watching television every night with Grandma, I hopped onto this bandwagon.  But, as I got older and established my own likes and dislikes, I discovered that I didn't care for Tony Bennett either.  I always found his song stylings a bit effected and certainly not in the same league as such other favorites as Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney.  With Bennett, I always felt that he was shouting out "look at me, I'm singing."

All of this serves as a prelude for my explanation as to why I went to see the new documentary "The Zen of Bennett."  Heck, I've seen documentaries about the Third Reich.  That doesn't necessarily mean I want to dye my hair blonde and learn how to goosestep.  As with all films of this genre, you watch them to learn something you didn't know.  And, perhaps, with this snapshot of Tony Bennett, I would discover some new insights on the crooner that I really never liked.


"The Zen of Bennett" gives you nothing new.  And, if you can believe this, it is sorely lacking in musical moments.  No song is played completely to conclusion.  And, here's another horrible surprise for Tony Bennett fans.  A documentary about this legendary singer contains not a single note from his biggest hit, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."  How freakin' goofy is that?

A year or two ago, Bennett released a CD (record album for those over 40) called "Duets II," where he warbles with a bunch of rock stars.  During the production of this CD (record album for those over 40), cameras followed Tony around from recording session to recording session. 

That's the movie, gang.  It's like a bonus extra you would find on a DVD.  A promotional reel that is completely unsatisfying since you learn absolutely zero about the subject matter.

You will notice that Tony's entourage is completely comprised of family members.  It's a cottage industry for a ton of folks with noses the same size as the patriarch and I guess that, if your dad is 85 and still pulling in some big bucks, it's an easy call to take the easy route to a lifetime career.  As soon as Tony passes on, the line of Bennetts down at the unemployment office should push the national out-of-work percentages back over 8 percent.

And that's the biggest problem with this movie.  It was conceived and shot by his son Danny, who I wouldn't trust to load a new cartridge into a View Master.  I'm not sure what filmmaking acumen this guy has, but he needs to reread "Documentaries for Dummies" ASAP.  The basic production values here are a mess.  There are shots where part of the screen is blurry.  Others are badly framed.  Given that most of the target audience is over 65, the only positive thing that "The Zen of Bennett" will do is prompt folks to get checked for glaucoma.

The shoddy camera work could be overlooked if there was any substance or new information provided in this movie.  But there's none.  We scamper after Tony as he records one song after another with rock musicians he barely knows.  Oh, here's John Mayer.  Five bars of their duet and done.  Oh, here's Norah Jones.  Five bars of their duet and done.  Oh, here's Carrie Underwood.  Yum, Tony says, she brought cupcakes.  Five bars of their duet and done.

In between all this nothingness, you hear little snippets of flotsam from Tony.  None of it compelling.

"I'm a pacifist.  I hate war."

Really?  Wow?  Now, that's different.

"I live in New York.  There's a lot of energy there."

Now there's something everybody already knows.

"I think you should live life to the fullest."

Well, we've only heard that from about ten dozen other documentary subjects.

Meanwhile, if you're not watching him practice for a duet, you watch Tony do sketch drawing.  Then he spends five minutes explaining why he needs a very specific pencil to do this.  All of a sudden, it's not a documentary but a commercial for Staples.

When Bennett does talk about his singing history, it simply leaves you craving to see more and hear more of that.  He talks about working with Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Washington, and Ella Fitzgerald.  Great.  Don't tell us.  Show us!  Pay the license fees and get us some legendary clips from "The Ed Sullivan Show."  Anything to break up the monotony of watch Tony draw the branches of a tree in Central Park.

The duet he does with that screwball Lady Gaga provides some potential for interesting fodder but their meeting looks like a sitcom pilot Garry Marshall might have produced in 1978.  At the same time, you see Bennett's current wife who might be no more than 35 years old herself and you're dying to learn more about that relationship.

You get nothing.

Even the one possibly compelling segment is a disappointment.  Tony's team anxiously awaits the appearance of Amy Winehouse for her taping session.  Tony talks candidly with associates that he knows she has drug problems and he would like to talk to her about this.  When Winehouse shows up, she is a complete mess.  Bennett somehow coaxes a solid performance out of her, but never ever broaches the subject with her.  She leaves the studio and is probably dead five minutes later.  The 10 minutes of footage is fascinating to watch, but it winds up being the only interesting piece of 90 minutes of complete tedium.

I was impressed by one thing, however.  No matter where Tony is working, he always dresses in a suit and tie.  Nattily attired always and a slice of professionalism that, like him or not, no longer exists.  It's that history I wanted to learn about.  

And got none of it from "The Zen Of Bennett." 

Dinner last night:  Steak, broccoli, and French fries.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We agree to disagree. I love Tony and I'm not alone. Our friend Lisa's a fan. He was Sinatra's favorite singer. I like him so much, I put him in a script!

You can't really judge until you see him live, which I did in 1978 in Vegas. He was touting the Great American Songbook when Michael Feinstein and Michael Buble were still in diapers.

The only youngster in his league is Diana Krall.

He's got a big nose and a toupee. So?