New Music Docs on Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ella Fitzgerald
For those that follow my blogs, I’m a big fan of music documentaries. Not just on artists whom I know and love, but any artist, new or old, whether I know anything about them or not. I recently watched these two documentaries below, and while I obviously knew the names of both artists who are featured, I knew basically nothing else about them with both having been in their heyday before my time. Although neither were over-the-top productions, it’s the untold story that’s what is important here. Enjoy!
STREET SURVIVORS: True Story Of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash
This biopic recreates the story about the ill-fated flight through the eyes of former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle (who narrates the film), who not only survived the plane crash that claimed the life of the band’s founder and front man Ronnie Van Zant among others, but who also physically pulled the remaining survivors out of the plane wreckage before staggering towards the nearest farmhouse in rural Louisiana to seek help. Pyle also contributes original music to the film’s soundtrack.
While the film is based around one individual’s account of the crash, there are scenes where it would be difficult to know exactly what took place, like for instance in the cockpit between the pilot and co-pilot (unless the black box was made accessible). The story begins with the formation of the band, but within 20-minutes it’s all about the plane as the band boards to get from gig to gig. There were many red alerts as to the safety of the plane and the capability of the pilots, and several onboard were very anxious to be boarding. In fact, some had purchased their own tickets to get to the next show in Baton Rouge, but Van Sant would not have that, as he wanted all to fly together.
The plane was older and likely not best for flying, however their manager booked it, and insisted they go despite him not being on it himself. It’s definitely not for those that have any fear of flying. The actual cause of the crash was running out of fuel, which could have been that it was not refueled fully during one of the stops enroute, or that it lost quite a bit of fuel with the constant engine backfiring. Either way, the amongst a group of trees was as terrible as could be imagined. Some died, and miraculously some survived.
Artimus is made to look like the hero here, but then again this is his story. Some parts seem far-fetched, like finding the way to civilization from the middle of nowhere, and badly injured from a plane crash. He was then shot by someone before they believed his story and went for help. He also was asked by the hospital to pay for the bill for all others who were sent to the hospital following the crash, and the drug squad wanted to charge him with having illegal narcotics, which Artimus told them was ginseng. There was a whole lot of weed on that plane though.
Overall, an interesting story, with a bit about the band, a lot about the crash, and perhaps too much on Artimus. Van Sant was quoted as saying he didn’t think he’d make it to 30 years old. He died in the crash at age 29.
Warning: some scenes maybe triggering for some, such as the back stage parties where women groupies were seen as sex objects, and were fully compliant with that. Also, the plane crash itself, and the minutes leading up to it knowing that the plane is going down and there’s nothing you can do.
Cleopatra Entertainment completed an international festival run followed by a domestic theatrical run, which included personal appearances by Artimus Pyle, who introduced the film and participated in Q&As with the audience. Pyle also performed a live music concert that featured the hit songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The film was scripted and directed by Jared Cohn (Devil’s Revenge, Devil’s Domain), produced by Brian Perera and co-produced by Tim Yasui for Cleopatra Entertainment.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats. A worldwide VOD and home video release includes a stand-alone official soundtrack CD via MVD Entertainment Group. ORDER HERE
Digital and Cable options below
- Google Play
- Vimeo On Demand
- iN Demand Movies
True fans can pick up their own Lynyrd Skynyrd face masks here.
Ella Fitzgerald – Just One Of Those Things
Ella Fitzgerald was just 16 years old when she won a talent contest at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre in 1934. Within months she was a star. Using rare performance footage and images, this new biopic delves into the jazz singer’s austere beginnings and rise to fame to tell the story of her life and music. In the face of horrific racism and discrimination, Fitzgerald used her remarkable voice to topple the barriers of her time, becoming one of the leading voices in the civil rights movement. Featuring interviews with Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett and other titans of the genre, this illuminating documentary venerates the voice that defined—and defied—a century.
This is a true rags to riches story. Having lost her mother at the age of 13, no knowing her father, and living on the streets of Harlem by the age of 16, the only thing Ella had left was dreams. Her dreams were to be a performer, a singer, a dancer. Taking a chance at a talent night showcase one evening, she was nervous and shy, but quickly won the audience over with her voice. She soon discovered this was the attention and admiration that was missing from her life. She quickly moved through the music industry, joining the Chick Webb orchestra as the only female member. When Chick became terminally ill, he asked the band to take care of Ella after he was gone. She took on the role as leader, much to the dislike of some members.
She had some ups and downs along the way, as most do, but one thing she didn’t get involved with was drugs or alcohol. There’s no indication of loneliness or depression either, two other signs of musicians and other celebrity types. Despite the racial prejudices of the time, she eventually got to perform at venues that were exclusively for white entertainers and attendees. She was helped with a couple of prominent individuals, Marilyn Monroe, who took a liking to her work and attended several shows front and centre, and promoter Norman Grant, a white promoter who she eventually married.
Later in life she had to have both her legs amputated due to diabetes before she eventually passed away in 1996. Before then she created the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation that works with at risk and disadvantaged individuals of all races, cultures and beliefs. Ella hoped to make their lives more rewarding, and she wanted to foster a love of reading, as well as a love of music. She also won fourteen Grammy Awards, and received the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This is the story of the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella.
Watch now as part of Hot Docs at Home streaming.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.