Enzo Avitabile Music Life
Autumn 2014 Documentary series
Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at 7:00pm
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Enzo Avitabile, Eliades Ochoa, and Naseer Shamma
Rated NR ·
English and Italian
Enzo Avitabile Music Life
In this documentary, Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Silence of the Lambs) turns his camera on Enzo Avitabile, a renowned Neapolitan saxophonist and singer-songwriter.
The project emerges from the reciprocal esteem of two artists, and from the fact that the American director for a long time has been aware of Avitabile’s music, a well known figure on the international music scene who is identified by his passion for research and experimentation.
Demme films an elaborate jam session hosted by Avitabile and held in a gigantic stone church with musicians from all around the world. The jam session in the church is the underlying structure of the film. Musicians from Pakistan, Armenia, Mauritania, India, Iran, Iraq an Cuba, gather together to play Avitabile’s songs. Many of them play bizarre instruments, rarely featured in orchestras, yet which have 3,000-year histories and traditions attached to them.
Avitabile’s songs are often laments about poverty and injustice, hatred and bigotry. Political in nature, they are cries for peace and understanding. He sings to the accompaniment of Flamenco guitar, sitar, Indian tabla drums, or the Iranian tar. The sound is phenomenal, haunting, catchy. The musicians play in a large round space, surrounded by columns and religious murals, the stone floor covered in overlapping Persian rugs. When filmed from overhead, the jam session takes on a ceremonial aspect. The musicians, often separated by a language barrier, communicate easily through the music. The collaboration is intense and joyous.
Music has always played a determining role in Demme’s work as a director. However, through the years this passion has been poured into his numerous videoclips, and above all his documentaries. In his latest effort he tells the story not just about the music of a “singular” artist but also of a city, Naples, including all of its treasures and contradictions.
“Although Avitabile is so famous in his homeland that people shout out his name as he walks by, and although he has recorded with the likes of Tina Turner and James Brown, his name is not known to most American audiences. Demme’s film could change that.” (Sheila O’Malley, RoberEbert.com)
“Demme has crafted yet another superb document of musicians at work, one as much about creation—and the sources of inspiration—as it is about performance. A wonderful film, as in, it’s full of wonders.” (Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice)
“In Enzo Avitabile Music Life, Demme has not given us an expansive film, and there are spots you wish he’d dug deeper. But there is such a well of emotion that the music alone is almost enough.” (Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times)