Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends
This review was written for the broadcast of "Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends."
9 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 12
KCET Los Angeles
This multidimensional, deeply personal documentary, for which an informal conversation between Tony Bennett and producer Clint Eastwood serves as hub, must be counted as one of the "American Masters" series' finest accomplishments, refreshingly focusing on the man and his art rather than sidetracking into personal issues.
In addition to a pretty interesting assortment of talking heads, the film relies heavily on Great American Songbook tunes to illustrate stories from Bennett's life. Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" provides the backdrop for the defining moment of the subject's youth -- the death of his father when Bennett was 10, which forced his mother to support her three children by sewing for a penny a dress. New and old versions of "Old Devil Moon" underscore the way black jazz musicians imprinted Bennett's style from the start.
Unexpectedly, the airing of this 90-minute documentary, less than a week after the death of Luciano Pavarotti, also provides an intriguing opportunity to compare two of the 20th century's greatest tenors. Both men came from humble beginnings and began singing at an early age. Both became known for the exquisite beauty of their voices and phrasing.
Both lost their professional way and returned in triumph to center stage: Pavarotti with "Nessun Dorma" and the Three Tenors, Bennett with MTV airplay for his "Steppin' Out With My Baby" video and an album of the year Grammy for "MTV Unplugged."
More important, neither ever lost the common touch that allowed them to build a loyal international following. Asked whether he ever got tired of singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," Bennett replies: "That song has made me a citizen of the world. It's what the public wants. Entree into castles, White Houses, opera houses and peoples' homes everywhere. "
There was one significant difference between the two. Pavarotti chose to capitalize on the Three Tenors phenomenon with a succession of arena events. By contrast, Bennett after MTV has been the same as before, and his unwavering commitment to what he feels is true and authentic about his art has kept that art vibrant and alive.
TONY BENNETT: THE MUSIC NEVER ENDS
Red Envelope Entertainment presents
a Rhapsody Films Inc. production in association with RPM Music Prods. and Thirteen/WNET New York
Director: Bruce Ricker
Editor: Joel Cox
Co-producer: Amy Schewel
Executive producers: Ted Sarandos, Susan Lacy
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Bruce Ricker
Narrator: Anthony Hopkins