LITTLE ROCK The loving biographical tribute Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer soft-focuses the harsh reality of her final years. The filmmakers flash a shot of the small trailer where she lived in Hemet in Riverside County, Calif., and there is no disguising the distraught singer living on the edge of the desert, recounting a Kafkaesque nightmare around going to the hospital for a broken arm in an interview filmed not long before her death.
O'Day died at age 87 in 2006, just weeks after this film was completed.
As the band vocalist with the Gene Krupa outfit - and her novelty duet with trumpeter Roy Eldridge - O'Day was one of the trademark female vocalists of the swing era. She was a gifted singer and a feisty, hip woman, a combination that she plied for a lengthy, productive career.
This documentary, directed by O'Day's manager Robbie Cavolina and filmmaker Ian Mc-Crudden, is a gentle, swingingfilm that pieces together her extraordinary life story from vintage performance clips and various interviews done over the years, where she is self-effacing and dismissive of her self-destructive behavior that included 16 years of heroin addiction and four failed marriages.
Whether O'Day is indeed one of the four great vocalists of the jazz era as the film says - alongside Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan - jazz critics can dispute.
She outlived most of her peers, and the film suffers from few eyewitness talking heads, relying instead on writers and disc jockeys who weren't there to tell the story.
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer76Cast: Documentary Directors: RobbieCavolina and Ian McCrudden Rating: not rated Running time: 91 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 44 on 12/19/2008