Arts & Culture

Part film-noir, part tragedy: The definitive Billie Holiday documentary

14 November 2020
Online | £10

Hailed as one of the greatest voices ever recorded, she changed the face of American music.

The story of Billie Holiday is an elusive one. The documentary of the iconic singer is told through the eyes and ears of journalist and fan, Linda Lipnack Kuehl. In 1971, Kuehl set out to write the definitive biography of Holiday, who died in 1959 at the age of 44. Kuehl, who died in 1979, never finished the biography.

She was a woman of breath-taking talent and global popularity while also stirring controversy.

Her own words are often filled with half-truths and mystery, making it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. However, with over 8 years of extensive research, and compiled from 200 hours of recorded interviews interspersed with drama, animation and still images, James Erskine’s mesmerising cinematic collage brings us perhaps the closest we will ever get to the definitive Billie Holiday biography.

Unheard interview footage with fellow artists as well as with Holiday’s step-parents, romantic partners, school friends, jail-mates, lawyers, and even the FBI agents who arrested her.

The film not only focuses on Holiday’s incredible voice and musical influence but also her activism as a Black artist in America. The trailer highlights this with a performance of “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first recorded in 1939, which exposed the realities of Black life in America and earned her powerful enemies. Declared by the New York Times to mark “the beginning of the civil rights movement,” the powerful song was written as a protest against the lynching of Black Americans.

Billie was released on November 13 via Greenwich Entertainment.

Director: James Erskine

Genres: Documentary

Certificate 15 – Strong language, domestic abuse, references to child sexual abuse

Released: 2019

Available to rent here

Header Photo by: William Gottlieb/Redferns

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.