Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee: DVD Review

As famous as Miss Peggy Lee is, I still think that she's always gotten short shrift as an artist. I think her ability to interpret songs and "make them her own" (as they say on American Idol, sorry) and to just put real soul-bearing emotion into the sound waves, well she just surpasses other twentieth century singers whose reputations and myths for one reason or another have become unjustly much larger than hers.

That's one reason why the documentary Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee (2004) was such a disappointment. Documentaries seem like such a straight-forward affair that it's often difficult to appreciate a good one, to understand what exactly it is that makes it good. Watching a not-so-hot doc will definitely make you appreciate the good ones more.

It's hard to say exactly why, but Fever never really gives us a sense of who Peggy Lee was. Actual details and stories from her life are a little thin on the ground, and though there are a few telling gems, they never really coalesce together into the sort of detailed portrait we're looking for. Whole marriages and periods of her life are glossed over.

There are a few good interview subjects with an interesting tidbit or perspective here and there, but it really amounts to a bunch of celebrity admirers saying things like "She was really beautiful. She could sing. She was the greatest." Well, like, tell me something I don't already know. Many of the celebs--who contend they admired her SO much--are interviewed, at their own insistence, I'm sure, in front of posters or wearing caps emblazoned with the name or logo of their latest project. Blech.

I was also shocked to see the directors overdub footage of Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald singing together. We the audience didn't get to hear one note of what must have been an amazing performance: we just hear some celebrity yammering on.

In the end, the film's strength is simply its use of Peggy Lee's recordings. Great to hear and see her sing, as always and there are a couple of neat concert and rehearsal clips, that are among the most telling and interesting pieces in the film.

There's another Peggy Lee documentary that I may check out for comparison's sake. Hopefully they did Miss Lee more justice than this.

FilmStocker Rating: C

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