For those of us who have no knowledge of Brazilian music, Guto Barra’s Beyond Ipanema is a very effective survey course. Like a dutiful PBS documentary, it starts from Carmen Miranda, who brought Brazilian music into the American pop culture lexicon, and works its way to the present day. We get a flavor for the entire lexicon, and the amazing contribution Brazilian song, whether it be the samba or the bossa nova – is clearly apparent. However, like many survey courses, it tries to squeeze a ton of information into a fairly short run time – and as a result, stuff does feel rushed and one cannot help but think there is a much deeper dive possible into this material.
There is Carmen Miranda’s career for instance. The movie touches on her importance. She insisted that she get to sing and perform in Portuguese at least briefly during each of her films. She was a Hollywood star, but she made American fans aware of her culture. Of course, her life and career would be sufficient for a movie of itself, and the movie really only probes her impact for the music and as a vessel to get the Brazilian culture into the American lexicon.
Then there is the bossa nova. At the time the bossa nova came into focus, the Big Band Era of swing was heading out, and the American Jazz form was hitting a fallow period. The film dutifully records the fallow period and the collaboration of Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida. Indeed, the story of the now illustrious “Girl from Ipanema” and the amazingly coincidental way that the ubiquitous vocal track was created is remarkable. However, this is fairly undistinguished as a “feature” documentary goes.
What is most memorable however, is the discussion of Brazilian music along the same time of the flower power and rock and roll revolution period in the United States. Along the time of psychadelic rock in the 60s and 70s, in Brazil, something very similar was happening. This is the most engaging part of the documentary. First there is an interview with underground hero Tom Ze, who is completely zany. Like Os Mutantes, his music was basically years past its peak date when David Byrne discovered it and wanted to bring it to the masses. Suddenly this very hip hop, acid, wild music got a second life. Really of all the sections of this survey course, this is the one I’d want to take an advanced course in.
While it is hard to wholly justify Beyond Ipanema as a theater documentary, its merit is significant, and its entertainment value is substantial. It definitely makes me want to hunt down some Os Mutantes.