For a while, every desperate jazz A&R exec would force their artists to record a “with strings” album. Then the Bossa Nova record became the gimmick of choice. However, that opened up plenty of opportunities for Brazilian musicians and resulted in some truly classic records. The Brazilian Bossa wave helped revitalize jazz’s commercial viability, at least to an extent. Somewhat logically, it is through a Bossa Nova prism that Americans view Brazilian music (even non-jazz fans). Not surprisingly, Bossa anchors directors Guto Barra & Beco Dranoff’s survey of Brazilian music, as seen from abroad, but they widen the perspective to include other styles and genres during Beyond Ipanema, which screens for free today, as part of Cinema Tropical’s online 2020 edition of Music + Film: Brazil.
One of the coolest things about Beyond is the credit it bestows Carmen Miranda, for making it big in Hollywood, while staying true to her Brazilian roots. For a time, she was the highest compensated woman in America, so she had the clout to insist on real-deal samba and Portuguese lyrics in her studio films. It is indeed refreshing to see the likes of Caetano Veloso remind us of who she really is, correcting the media’s corny image of her.
Of course, a good deal of Beyond focuses on Bossa Nova, chronicling touchstone events, like the release of Black Orpheus and its smash hit soundtrack album, as well as the chaotic but groundbreaking 1962 Carnegie Hall all-star concert. Joao Gilberto is not inappropriately identified as the Bossa Nova pioneer, but viewers also hear from Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, and Oscar Castro Neves. We also get commentary from Bud Shank and Clare Fischer, legit jazz musicians who recorded legit Bossa Nova albums.
Strangely, Tropicalia and MPB are rather cursorily discussed, but Gilberto Gil and Marcos Valle have some screen time. Os Mutantes also get their due representing rock and funk. Many Brazilian music fans will be surprised how much time is granted to the sampling of Brazilian music, but it makes sense for Bebel Gilberto to serve as the face of this section.
Beyond originally hit the festival circuit in 2009, when the band was really generating a lot of buzz). However, the discussion of Seu Jorge’s David Bowie Portuguese translations for the Life Aquatic film and soundtrack makes perfect sense—it maybe has even appreciated in relevancy over the years (considering he still performs them live, including a terrific set at last year’s Sundance).
There is a lot of good stuff and great music in Beyond. Bara & Dranoff keep it snappy and talk to some great musicians (also including Tom Ze and Flora Purim). The doc will also be illuminating for Brazilians, because some of the performers turned out to be much more popular here than they ever were at home, such as the bestselling Sergio Mendes. Even if some editorial weighting decisions haven’t held up as well as others, they were all clearly reasonable at the time. Regardless, the Bossa Nova sections are solid enough to carry the film on their own. Highly recommended, Beyond Ipanema screens online today (10/5) (for free), as part of Cinema Tropical’s Music + Film: Brazil.