“All my life, music just came to me.” Sharon Jones.
October18th, 2015 We’ve all been there before. You know the place. Its early morning and you just can’t seem to get the sleep out of your eyes or your head off the pillow. You don’t do mornings! And yet the spitfire that is Miss Sharon Jones has the audacity to affirm with a flourish of conviction, “Good morning ya’ll, time to do chemo!” Chemo has stolen so much from so many for so long; from hope, to pride and for some, life. But chemo never stood a chance because chemo never met the likes of one Sharon Jones. This musical / medical odyssey is an inspiring look at a yesteryear soul diva who proves she ain’t done yet. Two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple directs on the down beats before bringing things back up tempo within the life affirming world that is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. On the precipice of visualizing their greatest success in the face of mounting setbacks Miss Sharon Jones! is an illuminating, non-conformist journey of musical perseverance.
They say nothing good ever comes easy and for Sharon Jones, no truer words were ever spoken. An influential Sony studio exec early in her career told her in the bluntest of terms, “I’m too black, too fat, too short and too old” to become a star. OUCH! Sure, Sharon didn’t have the cache and connections of the camera ready girl groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas, nor did she have the iconic resonance of an Aretha. She’s been in the game and doing the do dating back to the mid-90s singing with ‘The Good N Plenty Girls’, Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan. But, what she possesses in spades is a blue collar old school work ethic with soul revival skillz backed by a Stax-style band that begs the question, Why hasn’t Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ sound (worthy of loftier confines) broken into the mainstream years ago? After screening this documentary I am still left with that same puzzling question.
Kopple’s intimate portrayal criss-crosses a trajectory of fits and stops the most devastating arrêt of which being Sharon’s year-long battle with pancreatic cancer that has taken her hair, taken her strength, sullied her hands but can’t make a dent in her indomitable will. In the face of wincing chemo injections and coursing pain that leaves her reeling and all who view this a little woozy we are quickly reminded again and again through flourishing musical high notes of jubilant touring and her sheer personal gusto why the other Sharon Jones is worthy of our time. And just like so many hardworking bands with managers booking concert halls and lining up gigs on career changing shows like the one they got with Ellen to help turn the corner into established success, the economic realities of her medical complication works its way into the musical narrative once again hobbling any recent gains.
However, for Miss Sharon Jones! to be a critical success, personal perspectives must be afforded to the inner workings of the Dap-Kings sans Miss J as they too question the bands resolve and their years of commitment. More like family than band members, Neal Sugarman and Binky Griptite take the lead in voicing the politics and changing climate of the music industry along with the business end of a touring band and the personal sacrifices of continuing to pursue that elusive musical dream. Kopple never strays too long between musical montages resetting the narrative for hardcore Dappers wanting to relive the best of Sharon Jones while appeasing newbies seeking the SJ experience for the very first time by hunker down to enjoy. Kopple doesn’t disappoint on either front.
VERDICT 4 / 5: It is easy and some would say down right necessary for one to question the wisdom of a music industry that would laud the manufactured sameness of a Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus in favour of an established Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. A soul and old school funk revival sound with historical throwbacks to unreleased Motown masters updated for today’s soulsters is what the SJ & the D-Ks are all about. The infectious musical turns never over powering the Grey’s Anatomy narrative backstopped by the powerhouse dynamo that Sharon Jones who has something to say and DAMN IT she’s gonna say it ya’ll. Kopple’s mastery of the documentary milieu comes quite honestly with recent successes such as ‘Running from Crazy’ and ‘Shut Up & Sing’ to name a few. With Miss Sharon Jones!, Kopple continues in the same vein of mining the essence of distinguished, forward thinking strong women who still have something to say and sing. And we listen. Try, just try sitting still during Miss Sharon Jones! It can’t be done.
Sharon Jones has more to fight for than just her career.
Genre: Documentary, Music.
Director / Screenwriter: Barbara Kopple
Producers: Barbara Kopple, David Cassidy
Associate Producers: Jen Ackerman, Madeleine Akers, Megan Kapler
Directors of Photography: Gary Griffin, Tony Hardmon, Kyle Kibbe
Premiere: TIFF WORLD PREMIERE
Runtime: 93 minutes
Cast: Sharon Jones, Binky Griptite, Gabe Roth, Homer Steinweiss, Neal Sugarman, Joe Crispiano, Alex Kadvan, Megan Hollen, Austen Holman