“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is a soaring documentary
Back in 1972, as the nation debated how to end an unpopular war and react to a controversial leader, a dynamic singer stepped onto the stage of Tulagi’s, a small venue in Boulder, Colo.
I was there. And, from her first moments on stage that evening, Linda Ronstadt let it be known that she was not just another singer making just another appearance at just another venue that served 3.2 beer. She had something to say. And sing. And, for the minimal cover charge we paid, her audience was captivated with the clear tones of her voice with its seemingly limitless range and a magical capacity to find the emotional core of any song she selected. The audience, usually as focused on chit chat as much as music, was enthralled, asking for encore after encore. For those of us lucky enough to see her that evening, we knew a star was born.
Over the next few decades, Ronstadt created an amazing career, complete with 28 studio albums, 63 singles, 10 Grammy Awards, a Tony nomination for the Broadway production of “The Pirates of Penzance” and the adoration of millions. That she continues to be so well remembered, years after she first appeared, pays credit to her talent. At the same time, that she distanced herself from the gossip that can plague many a performer illustrates the integrity she has always brought to work and her life.
The documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” offers a perfect title for an ideal tribute. Documentary movies about performers can be tricky. At their best they can — as did films focusing on such legends as Maria Callas and Elaine Stritch — take us inside the private lives of public people who search for courage each time they step on stage. But when filmmakers go too far — as with tell-all renditions of Madonna or the Carpenters — they can show so much of what occurs backstage that what performers accomplish on stage can feel diminished.
In this highly entertaining salute to Ronstadt, filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman get the balance right. Using the singer’s own reflections on her life and career as narration, the film paints a compelling picture of a girl who learned how to love music from an early age, who always knew how much she loved to sing and, once she began her career, knew that her musical instincts would provide the best possible direction. So, when Ronstadt began to tire of endlessly performing the same songs in large venues, she switched her focus. When she dared to explore the great American songbook (with famed arranger Nelson Riddle) or join Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris for an album of country western trios, she knew we she was right. Just as, when she decided to sing Gilbert and Sullivan on the Broadway stage.
The film captures every moment of discovery, disappointment and accomplishment. And more. Because, since 2012, as Ronstadt has faced the realities of Parkinson’s disease, her love for the magic of music has never dimmed. Thanks to this loving film, we join Ronstadt in celebrating the clarity of her voice, and the beauty of her spirit, as she continues to see the possibilities in every song she shares.
Film Nutritional Value: Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
Content: High. The dreams of a legendary life in music come to life in a documentary that searches for the soul and pays tribute to the lady.
Entertainment: High. Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman lovingly convey what makes Linda Ronstadt so magical a singer and so challenged by the change she confronts.
Message: High. Thanks to clear narration, and effective commentary, we learn the authentic way Ronstadt looks at herself, her priorities, and the moments that matter in her life.
Relevance: High. This opportunity to view the life of this music legend proves to be entertaining, thoughtful and deeply touching.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. If you remember Ronstadt’s music, the film will offer a lot to discuss; after savoring this film, check out her recordings, as fresh today as when first released.
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is rated PG-13 for “brief strong language and drug material.” The film runs 95 minutes.