out of Five
Running time: 104
Susanne Rostock's entertaining documentary is both engaging and inspiring, but it also suffers from being a little one-sided and is heavily weighted towards Belafonte's activism rather than his early career.
What's it all about?
Directed by Susanne Rostock, Sing Your Song is a documentary that explores the life and career of 75 year old (and still going strong) Harry Belafonte. Narrated by Belafonte himself and augmented with interviews from his friends, family and colleagues, the film charts his early career as a calypso singer (most famous song: Day-O), during which he became the first musician to sell a million albums, before becoming a movie star as a result of his performance in Carmen Jones (1954).
Belafonte's prominence in the '60s enabled him to become close to both President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, which made him an important go-between during the civil rights movement. This seems to have triggered the later phase of his career, in which he became a Unicef ambassador and an active spokesman and campaigner on civil rights, the anti-apartheid movement, various war issues and African aid.
Belafonte is incredibly charismatic on screen and it's easy to see why his laid back, calm voiced presence has been so effective in campaigning over the years. It's also important to remember that Belafonte effectively took a stand when it was potentially dangerous to do so, something that's highlighted when Martin Luther King's daughter (one of several interviewees) remembers that her father admired Belafonte as someone who chose to get involved, even though he didn't have to.
In addition, there's an impressive array of talking heads and Rostock has assembled a wealth of terrific archive material, though the film in general is disappointingly light on both his singing and film careers, often cutting songs short and only showing fleeting film appearances.
The main problem with the film is that, with Belafonte providing his own narration, the perspective is understandably one-sided. Key casualties are firstly the way in which the film skips over any less than savoury personal details (we know of failed marriages and presumably strained relationships with his children, but from the evidence here, everyone is remarkably happy) and secondly that there are certain questionable omissions – for example, there is no mention of Bob Geldof and Band Aid, which makes it look as if USA for Africa's We Are The World was entirely Belafonte's idea.
A well made documentary that's both entertaining and inspiring, Sing Your Song is nevertheless slightly compromised by being so relentlessly one-sided.