Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice combines the clip- and interview-mastery of Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk, The Celluloid Closet) with the matter-of-fact approach of CNN Films (Apollo 11, Three Identical Strangers) for an entertaining, rapid-fire trip through the 1970s and ’80s superstar’s unique life.
Unlike the subjects of other recent musician bio-docs, whose ill treatment of other people was either glossed over (Pavarotti) or put centerstage (David Crosby: Remember My Name), Ronstadt appears to have no skeletons in her closet. The film asserts that she was focused on her music from her teen years (her first hit, “Different Drum,” came with the Stone Poneys when she was 21) until forced into retirement ten years ago by the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Sure, she had famous lovers (J.D. Souther, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Jim Carrey, George Lucas), but she never married any of them. She was married to the music.
The Sound of My Voice will take those who remember Ronstadt at her peak on a pleasant nostalgia ride, with the bonus of behind-the-scenes stories on the creation of Ronstadt’s many unexpected digressions from the pop mainstream: collaborations with Nelson Riddle or Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris (both interviewed on camera), or recording the Mexican folk songs of her youth (still the best-selling Latin album in U.S. history). Of course, there’s also ample coverage of her peak years, from “You’re No Good” (1975) to “Get Closer” (1982) and beyond.
Anyone too young to remember Ronstadt as a public figure will be amazed that a woman of her time could have had the career and connections she had. Everyone will be pleased to learn that behind the male-dominated music scene of the late 20th century, some sisters were doing it for themselves from the get-go. (Bonnie Raitt and Karla Bonoff are also among those interviewed.)
Ronstadt’s voice is the dominant narrator, although she isn’t seen in her contemporary, grandmotherly form until the moving ending, when the Parkinson’s diagnosis explains her absence from both the movie’s visuals and from modern stages.
Other than that bittersweet conclusion, The Sound of My Voice is without surprises, and its construction is almost entirely chronological and career-focused. Her childhood is amply and fascinatingly covered, but her adult personal life is barely sketched, including her decision to adopt her two children and her sometimes headline-making political stands. This is not a complaint, though, since Ronstadt’s career could probably provide enough material to fill two or three feature documentaries.
This one is jam-packed, fast-moving, satisfying and over before you know it, leaving you wanting more. Much like many of Ronstadt’s hit singles from the 1970s.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Showing at the Grail Moviehouse.
(Photos: Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)