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CIFF: Beyond Ipanema

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 6, 2009 6:40PM

2009_10_4beyondipanema.jpg This is part of Chicagoist's continuing coverage of the 45th Chicago International Film Festival.

In 1939 Carmen Miranda arrived in New York, making her American debut. By 1945 she was the highest-paid woman in the entire country. Dubbed the Brazilian Bombshell, her presence in the US was only the first shot fired in a revolution that continues to influence music all over the world. Beyond Ipanema functions as a concise primer, but it's also as joyous and infectious as the music it explores. And like every great music documentary, when it's over you have the urge to run out and buy at least half a dozen records.

After presenting a quick sketch of Miranda using some gorgeous color footage from her Twentieth Century-Fox musicals, the documentary skips ahead to Tropicália (beloved of Beck, The Beastie Boys, Of Montreal, et al) before doubling back to cover bossa nova. On hand to discuss the music and share their enthusiasm are an astounding assortment of luminaries, including David Byrne, Arto Lindsay, Lalo Schifrin, Creed Taylor, Thievery Corporation, Devendra Banhart, and M.I.A. Among the Brazilian musicians interviewed are Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Bebel Gilberto, and Seu Jorge. We follow Os Mutantes, reuniting after disbanding nearly twenty years earlier, and their triumphant set at Pitchfork in 2006. CSS also puts in an appearance. Our only quibble is that there isn't enough original source music on the soundtrack. Being more completely immersed in vintage recordings would have reinforced their timeless quality, but their relative scarcity is mostly likely a result of prohibitively expensive licensing fees. Instead we hear a lot of remixes or alternate versions. Hard to complain too loudly, though, since there isn't a bum tune in the whole movie.

Brazilian music's trippy fusion of rock, blues, African and Brazilian rhythms, and every other kind of ear-catching sound has only gotten more daring. The documentary ends with a profile of favela funk, an unlikely (and irresistible) collision of metal-heavy beats, dancehall, electronica and hip-hop which has spread far beyond the slums of Rio. Such a music could only exist in the 21st Century. "Geography is not important anymore," says one DJ in the film. As if to prove the point, Beyond Ipanema even highlights Harlem Samba, a group made up of New York City high school students. Rarely has the blessed impurity of music felt so exhilarating.

Beyond Ipanema screens October 11 and 12.