November 12, 2020
Exploitation and harassment, not ‘inner demons’, brought down the singer, argues this documentary that showcases her superb voice
Billie review – a truer, historical spin on the great  Billie Holiday
There’s a structural oddity in this very fascinating if slightly flawed documentary about the life and times of the great Singer Billie Holiday, who died at the age of 44 in 1959 after a lifetime of abuse from exploitative lovers and husbands, condescension and hypocrisy from the entertainment industry and a history of drug addiction and harassment from law enforcement officials, for whom she was a prominent target. In the 40s, she served time in prison on a drugs charge. The film poignantly tells us that, in jail, she “didn’t sing a note”.
Apart from music, Holiday loved sex, drugs, wealth and celebrity in ways that didn’t get men into the same kind of trouble. James Erskine’s film showcases the unforgettable Holiday voice: her elegantly casual, almost negligent readings of melodies, with a sensual moan or purr that was on the verge of a sob.
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