As a guest host at the MFF, Dischord Records' co-owner and operator Ian MacKaye, the veteran of bands including Minor Threat and Fugazi who is currently making music in the Evens, was going to choose a brutal brutal Soviet antiwar film. Then he thought, "How predictable? The punk guy chooses a film with people shooting and cutting each other in half!" Figuring the festival audience, like him, had had enough of war, he tried to find something that would celebrate "humanity, creativity, life!"
So he took a chance on a piece he hadn't seen but desperately wanted to -- a short 1992 French TV documentary called "Nina Simone: La Legende."
Punker MacKaye and jazz-R&B-pop-gospel "Priestess of Soul" Simone? Where does that connection come from? Well, fifteen years ago MacKaye heard a recording of Simone singing "The King of Love is Dead" and considered it "one of the single most heavy pieces of music I'd ever heard." Both in his opening remarks and in his comments afterward, MacKaye made clear he connected to her intensity, purity, and most of all her singularity as an artist.
How you reacted to the film itself depended on whether you were steeped enough in Simone's story, mythology and music to fill in the blanks of a defiantly arty 54-minute piece that concentrated on her black-activist politics, her volatility and her thwarted ambition to be a classical pianist. Even MacKaye said he was "still putting together in my head" a final section labeled "The Dream": Simone at the piano playing Tchaikovsky with a chamber group.
But there were enough sublime performance clips, including Simone imbuing "Little Liza Jane" with a whole new rhythm, to enlist first-time Simone fans in the quest to make her best art available. And MacKaye's own humor, unpredictability, originality and passion helped make the Saturday screening at the Charles an event to savor.