Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Janeiro in New York: The House of Tom

Tom Jobim and Louis Armstrong belong to an exclusive fraternity of musicians who have had airports renamed in their honor. Such is the place of unrivaled honor held by composer-arranger-musician-vocalist Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim in his native Brazil. Yet, it is the private Jobim that his widow Ana faithfully captures in her documentary The House of Tom: Mundo, Monde, Mondo, which screens tomorrow at the 92 Y Tribeca as part of Cinema Tropical’s Janeiro in New York film series.

Blending the influences of American jazz and the French Impressionist composers, Jobim and Luiz Bonfá, started the international Bossa Nova craze with their bestselling soundtrack to Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus. Many of his hundreds of songs have become familiar jazz standards, like “Wave,” “The Waters of March,” and “Dindi,” several examples of which are heard throughout House. Yet probably more than any other tune, Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” would define Bossa Nova and Brazil in general for millions around the world. However, in the reminiscences recorded by his widow, Jobim recalls the initial resistance to a song about “Ipanema,” a place few Americans had then heard of.

Much of Ana Jobim’s footage consists of Tom Jobim reading poetry—either Naruda’s or his own. In particular, we hear extended excerpts from his long poem inspired by the process of building their final home in Brazil. Naturally, there is also quite a bit of music in House as well, but instead of polished concert hall performances, Ana Jobim shows viewers the informal Tom Jobim, singing and playing with family and friends during parties or when simply relaxing at home. Of course as a legendary composer, the musical talent of Jobim’s nearest and dearest was well above average, so these relaxed sessions prove to be quite entertaining.

Not surprisingly, Jobim on Jobim is an intimate, highly complimentary portrait of the late Bossa Nova maestro. Only briefly do we hear the composer allude to political controversies, clearly comparing himself to the Brazilian classical composer Villa-Lobos for their shared aversion to ideology.

An accomplished photographer, Ana Jobim also intersperses House with images of Brazil’s natural beauty, which was a major source of inspiration for her late husband. As a result, it is also quite an effective advertisement for Brazilian tourism. Still, it is the many previously unseen interviews, private performances, and candid photos collected in her film that will really interest Jobim’s scores of fans. In many respects, House is like some of Jobim’s finest songs, short in duration, but gently wistful, with some moments of real beauty. It plays tomorrow night (10/29) as Janeiro in New York continues at the 92 Y Tribeca.