on July 16, 2003
Few artists have been as hard to catagorize as Joni Mitchell. Emerging initially as a sensitive introspective folk singer from Canada to becoming a singer songwriter whose musical style crosses so many boarders as to becoming nearly unclassifiable, Mitchell has stubbornly followed her own creative path undeterred by trends or fashion. What sets her apart from so many of her contemporaries is her ability to expand, grow and remain viable in an industry not known for career longevity. When you consider the fate of so many of her contemporaries, drug addiction. creative sloth, death, rehab or becoming irrelevant oldies acts in far flung Casinos in the Southwest, Mitchell has overcome most, if not all, of those land mines. She, unlike so many who were there when she started, is still here and still making music.
For those who have wondered when Mitchell would get her just due, it seems that all of those years of stubbornly refusing to be completely controlled by the "Music Biz" have paid off in terms of honors, awards and now a DVD that chronicles her life.
Joni Mitchell A life Story: Woman of Heart and Mind from Eagle Vision gives her the royal treatment. Directed by Susan Lacy, the entire 120 minute documentary is much like Mitchell's work, personal, revealing, but decidedly artistic in it's aims. This is a point not lost on Lacy who allows Mitchell to tell her amazing story from her roots in a small town in Canada to being the consort, muse and inspiration for Crosby Stills Nash, and sometimes Young.
Told in chronological order, we learn of Mitchell's childhood bout with Polio and marriage to fellow singer Chuck Mitchell, who informed her shortly after their marriage he was not willing to be the father of "another man's child." Subsequently Mitchell's out of wed lock daughter by another man was given up for adoption and relocated many years later. Such personal revelations are not treated as "nasty gossip," but like Mitchells' own music, which treats life's difficulties directly and with a minimum of sentiment or self pity, told in a matter of fact tone without being self pitying. The documentary spends little time detailing Mitchell's love life and her many entanglements, but it does not completely shy away from the fact that she was leading life on her own terms and in her own way irrespective of "conventions."
The heart of Woman of Heart in Mind are the archival footage of Mitchell performing that give this film resonance. Liberally sprinkled throughout the bio are shots of Mitchell in concert and on television accompanied by herself on guitar. It is in concert giving such personal performances that one sees the real intimacy of her art form, and how well she is able to bring such personal songs to an audience without loss of potency or power. She truly emerges as mesmerizing on stage. That is a point not lost on David Crosby, who is largely credited for discovering her. Crosby briefly, but pointedly says," I had no idea there was anyone that good."
The truth of Mitchell's rise is more complex, and far more detailed. As part of a duo with her first husband, Chuck Mitchell, they leave Canada for Detroit Michigan. Once there, they become the gold couple of the Folk singer circle, with Mitchell emerging early as the more original of the two. As performers coming to the Motor City came and went, Mitchell's compositions were gaining the attention of the likes of Tom Rush and Buffy Saint Marie. As her reputation grew, her strained marriage fell apart and Mitchell relocated to New York. It is a point in her life told in the first song from her self titled debut release, Joni Mitchell.
Going on the road, literally alone, she booked her own shows and acted as her own agent. Such little known facts of her early career, and the enormous difficulties she faced, are carefully detailed, but without a note of self pity. After years of performing, Mitchell acquires an agent, supportive management and David Crosby's help in insuring that her music not be retrofitted to fit current styles when she hits the studios. From that point onward, Mitchell was in total and complete control of her musical odyssey.
While she was closely associated with Crosby Stills Nash and Young, it is not long before Mitchell creatively moves towards a hybrid of Folk, Jazz, Rock and Roll and Country and Western that sends her up the charts with such anthems as "Woodstock." Contrary to the myth that Mitchell attended that ultimate 60's concert in New York State, she was slated to appear, but was told not to for fear of losing an important television appearance on David Cavot's talk show. Lacy includes Mitchell on the show listening and putting on a convincing stiff upper lip as the CSN and Y excitedly talk about the atmosphere of Woodstock as Mitchell stoically listens. To hear Mitchell comment on the footage adds yet another personal layer to a life that is already rich and enduring.
The documentary contains vintage photos of Mitchell as a young girl and continues in chronological order as she started to work with such jazz titans as Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herby Hancock and Pat Metheny. While she maintained close ties to CSN and Y throughout her career, her musical identity was decidedly separate from theirs. So much so that when she hit the road to support the chart topping "Court and Spark," she toured with Tom Scott's L.A. Express. The resulting in concert release, Miles of Aisles, had a decidedly jazz feel.
Offering up a great deal of personal information, and some informative revelations from Mitchell herself, Woman of Heart and Mind is a compelling, exciting voyage through a life filled with amazing highs, terrifying lows and exhilarating inventive music. For Mitchell fans, this maybe an essential collectible. For those new to Mitchell, and those who are creative, this bio picture serves as an excellent primer on how to maintain artistic integrity without compromising your creativity in an essentially crass overly commercialized industry. Kudos to Director Lacy for preserving the legacy of Joni Mitchell without turning it into a lurid "Inside the Music" gossip fest. Told with attention to detail and her artisty, the DVD also includes extras, promos and out takes that are just as solid as the 120 documentary.
on January 30, 2004
I was tempted to rate this lower, except this is as advertised a very fine documentary of a unique and superb talent. What seemed so frustrating is that this format requires voice over and cutting of a remarkable group of historic live performances. Yes, four uninterrupted songs from a latter day performance are added as a bonus, but I really wanted to see more of the rare and vintage performances that were assembled for this DVD. (It's a little like sitting through Dylan's EAT THE DOCUMENT when you know that Pennebaker has the complete performances laying around someplace.)
No doubt, most who watch this documentary will find themselves all the more impressed with this indespensable artist, and likely to latch onto any one of her great albums. But if they had given the complete performances, this DVD would be a frequent flyer. This is the rare case where we really did need the bonus disc.
on November 13, 2003
This is a sensitive and beautifully made documentary that I recommend highly.
Joni is one of my favorite musicians. I have been listening to her on a regular basis for over 30 years. As a result, my expectations for this kind of film were high, and overall I was pleased with what I saw.
By far the most appealling part of this documentatary is the wonderful archival footage of a young Joni doing a number of her great early songs. This material simply shimmers with an almost other worldly glow. The retelling of the writing of her song Woodstock all but had me in tears, it was so moving and evocative.
The commentary by people who knew her well, such as David Crosby, Graham Nash, David Geffin, and others, is thoughtful and very enlightening. Recent footage from an interview with Joni herself is also very engaging.
Ultimately I would like to read a really long, really thorough biography that would explain all the complicated details that make up this extraordinary woman's life. There just wasn't enough room to dig into some of the most interesting transitions in her complicated life in this beautifully made, two hour long film. I still hunger for more information.
Joni is such an intelligent woman, and many of the decisions in her later life would make interesting material for a more in depth exploration. Her relationship to jazz, the development of breakthrough albums such as Hejira and Mingus, her personal thoughts on other musicians, etc. All of this would be interesting to read about in more depth.
But one needs to recoginize the limitations of the genre. You can only do so much in a documentary film. And certainly one understands why there was so much focus on her early career, given the almost transcendent power of the early archival footage. The early Joni was a being from another planet, or some parallel idealized universe, almost impossibly beautiful and talented. Given the nature of this early footage, it is easy to forget that she became more interesting as she grew older.
Overally, this is excellent work, a must see for any one who really loves Joni's work and wants to know more about her.
(If one gives every film that one really likes 5 stars, then how can you highlight those truly stellar films that all but change our lives. This is a great film, but I can only bring myself to give it 4 stars. It's very good, but it's not a Bergman or Fellini film.)
on July 24, 2003
I became a Joni Mitchell fan from her album "Night Ride Home",
that was the first time I heard of her and since 1990 I have
become a huge fan. Of course when I stumbled upon "Woman of
Heart and Mind" DVD, I bought it right away. The minute it started playing, I knew I was in for a rollercoaster ride of
great music, great writing and the best of all, the story of the
most influental person in music of the 20th century and 21st century for that matter. I enjoyed this so so much. What I enjoyed most were the layering of photos,interviews and Joni herself speaking about the turbulant times in her life. The DVD was a feast for the eyes with such an artistic touch it brought
tears to my eyes. When you learn intimate things about your favorite artist/singer/songwriter, like a friend you begin to understand different aspects of their lives in ways of my own.
Not too many artists out their "reveal themselves" as Joni has with her music, that I have understood. When Joni speaks, I honesty think she is a friend speaking to me, in a way I understand the pain of "life" and hapiness of "life" she has gone
through. I hope Joni Mitchell has touched many, many lives as she has touched mine. What a gift to be a fan of Joni!!!!!!!!!
on June 24, 2003
This DVD chronicles the life, loves and career of Joni Mitchell. She was very strong-willed, battling childhood polio and later teaching herself to play guitar. That combination of determination and talent helped her succeed in the male dominated world of folk music. To paraphrase her, she wanted to combine the melodicism of the big band era with the lyricism of Bob Dylan in the songs she wrote. She soon went from the coffee houses of Greenwich Village to Carnegie Hall. Ever the wandering spirit, she moved from New York to Laurel Canyon, LA, where she met and fell in love with Graham Nash. During that period, when they were living together, Graham wrote "Our House" and Joni wrote the album "Ladies Of The Canyon." That album included the official anthem to the sixties' most famous music festival, "Woodstock." Ironically, Joni was supposed to play at Woodstock, but her manager talked her out of it at the last minute.
The DVD goes on to chronicle Joni's musical journeys into pop ("You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio") rock and roll ("Raised On Robbery") and jazz ("Mingus"), a superb album that was savaged by the critics and ignored by the record buying public. Joni continued to release many fine albums throughout the eighties and nineties. Joni finally won a Grammy in 1996, when "Turbulent Indigo" won for best pop album. Unlike other music veterans who won Grammies late in their careers, Joni's win did not translate into huge records sales and lots of radio airplay. Nevertheless, this multi-talented artist continues to make great music. The DVD includes snippets of songs performed in various concerts throughout her entire career. A bonus section features four songs, taken from her 1998 video "Painting With Words And Music," in their entirety. The songs are "Big Yellow Taxi," "Amelia," "Hejira" and "Woodstock."
on June 11, 2003
Inspite of having been a fan for a very long time, I was amazed by how much I learned about Joni Mitchell as a woman and an artist. Her courage, her integrity, the enormous sacrifices and the very bold daring to lay it out and reach people with her thoughts and emotions are all the more underscored by this remarkable flim. Her best songs, her best friends, her achievements and disappointments are all detailed here. The footage of her in concert is brilliant. Her honesty rules at all moments, and perhaps with all the posturing and self-righteousness that pervade music now, it is uncannily refreshing to listen to her once more, with very open ears.
I understood exactly the breakdown and recovery she went through from BLUE to FOR THE ROSES, retreating to Canada, and I can understand what is so important about such a retreat. It seems to be for her like Coltrane's retreat to his home in Philly to beat heroin, only to re-emerge as the most forward thinking artist of his generation, spiritually renewed and with a vision clearly in focus. Mitchell seems to have undergone a similar spiritual conversion and when she came back from the wilds, she was prepared to journey where none of her contemporaries could imagine.
Her romances, particularly with Graham Nash and Larry Klein are presented beautifully. Her collaborations with the very best in jazz: Mingus, Metheny, Jaco, Shorter: are in retrospect incredible artistic achievements, regardless of the criticism of the folk-rock nazis of the time. She connects with people, especially artists who are trying to make sense of the world and the lives we are given. Her mission to find her daughter re-oriented her priorities profoundly. This woman has travelled quite a road. Her hejira has captivated us. This film is a great tribute to an incredible woman.
on August 22, 2003
This is a very well done documentary of Joni that actually
does her justice. A complex musical adventurer with a talent
and gift that just excelerated with each new release and took
all her fans on quite a ride during her hey days all through
the 70's. It was a rough ride through the 80's for singer-songwriter musicans but Joni found herself in the early 90's
and went on to make outstanding musical commentaries not only
related to love but the escalting decline of our culture, a subject critics harped on Joni for. From beginning to end this
is a messmerising journey from a lady that has no peers when it
comes to this business. To this day no one has been able to
do the things Joni did and take the risks, new artists are not
allowed this musical freedom to explore. Everyone who loved what made the 70's so special for musicans should check this
out, it has allot to say.
on September 28, 2003
I'd give this documentary ten stars if I could!! A stunning and well-deserved documentary of the life of one of the true artists to emerge from the baby-boom generation. Joni has always seemed kind of like the Rock of Gibraltor; always was there, and always will be there. But this documentay is a fantastic reminder of how much Joni had to overcome in her initial climb to stardom, and of her staying power as a musical legend -- and maverick -- for the last 30 (or so) years. It also underscores how much Joni and her work mean to so many people. By the way, her reunion with her daughter (and grandchildren) is a tear-jerker. A beautifully produced documentary by people who obviously love and care deeply about Joni as an artist and a person. I can't recommend it highly enough.
on June 20, 2003
What a wonderful father's day gift the new Joni Mitchell DVD is! It is pure pleasure to be able to re-experience the joy of her talent, artistry, and music and learn about her life and fascinating musical journey. There are a number of performers today who in very small ways mimic Joni Mitchell's gift. This DVD shows that today's "artists" do not write, sing, or play at this level nor can they touch the emotional part of us that this wonderful musician can. I recommend this DVD to all who have appreciated Joni Mitchell and to the younger audience who would like to experience the "gold standard" as they search for inspiration among the current generation of performers. I am so pleased to give this a prominent place in my growing DVD collection.
on May 15, 2003
If you are a Joni Mitchell fan, or like me, a fanatic, this DVD is a must own. Stuffed with footage from her concerts, still photos, and interviews with those in the industry who know her best(Graham Nash, David Crosby, James Taylor to name a few), I found it to be very informative and it provided inside information that I had not read or heard anywhere else. Her music provides the backgdrop for the DVD and there was even some brief information about her adopted daughter and her painting. The grand dame is interviewed as well. I was mesmerized from start to finish.