A new documentary, Billie, will dive into the life and career of Billie Holiday using some 200-plus hours of previously unheard interviews.
Years after her death, Billie Holiday remains an iconic singer and seminal figure in the history of Jazz. Now, a new documentary will dive into the highs and lows of the singer’s fascinating career, based directly on the accounts of people in her personal orbit.
Titled Billie, the documentary project is based on some 200-plus hours of unreleased interviews about Billie Holiday conducted by Linda Lipnack Kuehl during the 60s. Kuehl, who was working on a biography of the singer, passed away in 1979 having never gotten to pour her subject onto paper.
Holiday herself died in 1959, 20 years before her biographer, after a prolonged battle with cirrhosis.
Billie dives into the enigmatic singer’s career with these interviews as the crux. The documentary’s run features a plethora of figures who made appearances in Holiday’s life.
This includes the likes of Tony Bennett, Charles Mingus, Sylvia Syms and Count Basie, to family, friends, and even an arresting officer who was present at the scene of one of her drug busts. Despite the singer’s tragic life, however, the producers of the documentary insist that they did not want to portray her as “just a victim,” as reported by Variety.
Against the backdrop of her sexual assault by the age of 13, her descent into hard drugs, and struggles with poverty and racism, the documentary highlights the sheer “personal agency” that Holiday exercised both in and out of the studio.
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The trailer for Billie throws light on her 1939 protest song ‘Strange Fruit’. Clips show newly colored and restored archive photos chronicling the singer’s career.
In a statement, director James Erskine stressed that the documentary aimed to not just portray Holiday as an enigmatic figure, but also ensure that “viewers felt her presence all the way throughout it.”
As reported by Rolling Stone, Erskine said: “We had the images and footage, of course, and we pulled together her surviving audio interviews, but what was essential to me was to make sure there was enough room in the film to sit back and admire her power, her genius, and also to ensure the audience grasped that Billie’s story was told through the songs she sang. Taking the narrative of Billie, blending it with a coherent music structure and then tracing out her life and her changing image was the essence of the film.”
This won’t be the first time Billie Holiday’s life will be shown on screen. Late last month, Paramount Pictures announced that a biopic of the singer was in the making. The movie will be helmed by Lee Daniels and be released in 2021.