Saturday, September 24, 2011

Screen Gem Saturdays: Billie Holiday & "New Orleans"

Like a fine wine, my taste for Billie Holiday is something I acquired as I matured. Her vocal range may have been limited, but she made up for it in her styling and emotional punch. What a talent. This 1949 portrait by Carl Van Vechten is one of my favorites of her.

Two years earlier, Holiday had a supporting role in a very forgettable United Artists film titled "New Orleans." The most memorable thing about this film are its musical numbers which are held together by a very trite plot. The movie posters attempted to drum up interest by pushing a supposedly hot & steamy movie; the word tepid is more accurate.

Besides Billie, Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman & his orchestra are also along for the ride. Holiday's role of Endie, a maid, is a total waste of her talents. Just like MGM's Lena Horne, it is a sad statement of the times that these two talented African American women were relegated to throw-away bit parts which served as an excuse to showcase their vocal talents.

From film critic Leonard Maltin: Hackneyed fictionalization of the birth of jazz, spanning 40 years, but there's plenty of good music. Holiday (cast as a maid!) does "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans'' with Armstrong and all-star band, and it's sublime. Shelley Winters appears briefly as de [Arturo de] Cordova's secretary.

Two paintings I did of Billie Holiday many years ago:

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Connie Moreno said...

Wow, that last one is a painting? I thought it was a photograph! Awesome!

I have to admit, all I know about Billie Holiday was from the movie Lady Sings the Blues and I'm not even sure if it WAS about her, ya know?

Katella Gate said...

Dave, like you I came to appreciate Billy Holiday late in life. I think you need to be past a certain age before her emotional perspective makes sense.

I also notice on the movie poster, Louis Armstrong's name is on the poster, but his picture is not. :-/