TIFF 2015: Music and Melodrama 

Some of the best movies reside in the unique space where music and melodrama intersect. For evidence, look no further than this year's Toronto International Film Festival. A fair amount of drama has been swirling north of the border surrounding a movie  the public won't see anytime soon—at least if uber-diva Aretha Franklin has her way.

click to enlarge A 30-year-old Aretha Franklin stars in Amazing Grace.
  • A 30-year-old Aretha Franklin stars in Amazing Grace.
There was great anticipation for Amazing Grace, a documentary featuring rare footage shot by late-director Sydney Pollack of Ms. Franklin's 1972 live performance with the Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles.

The resulting album is legendary and so too, rumor has it, was the filming. Amazing Grace was scheduled to be a prime draw at TIFF. But Franklin got a last-minute court order to block the film's screening, arguing she never gave written consent for commercial release of the film.

"The footage in the film is truly a cinematic treasure of 20th century music," read an official statement from TIFF. "We hope global audiences will have the opportunity to experience this film once a resolution is found."

Boise Weekly confirmed a big rumor floating around Toronto on Saturday when we learned a secret screening of Amazing Grace was being hosted for a select few buyers (the film is still seeking distribution). Variety reported bigwigs from The Weinstein Company and IFC Films were invited to the clandestine screening.

All that said, the hits keep coming with a number of other music-related films at TIFF, including Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke as jazz legend Chet Baker; The Reflektor Tapes, a rockumentary about Montreal-based indie rockers Arcade Fire; Heart of a Dog, in which artist Laurie Anderson goes behind the camera for a reflection on her late husband, Lou Reed; Miss Sharon Jones, about the soul-singing survivor; and Keith Richards: Under the Influence, whose title alone should you all you need to know.

click to enlarge Tom Hiddleston is Hank Williams in I Saw the Light.
  • Tom Hiddleston is Hank Williams in I Saw the Light.
BW caught the Saturday, Sept. 12 premiere of I Saw the Light, a noble musical biography of country legend Hank Williams. A treasured moment occurs approximately 70 minutes into the film, when Tom Hiddleston, as Williams, walks center stage and yodels a full-throated rendition of "Hey Good Looking."

The portrayal of Williams by Hiddleston (yes, he's the guy who played villain Loki in The Avengers franchise) is spot on and his singing is marvelous. Unfortunately, there's too much drama between the film's musical numbers. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that nearly all of the drama is melodrama. Even a casual fan of Hank Williams knows his short-fused life was soaked in alcohol, drugs and marital strife, and plenty of all that is on display in this film 

I Saw the Light looks great in its authenticity and Hiddleston's musical chops can't be denied. Unfortunately, the film is overly obsessed with telling us the story behind the music and, as a result, the music—which is the movie's strongest feature—plays second-fiddle.




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