The Zen of Bennett

Unjoo Moon

BY Peter MarrackPublished Dec 13, 2012

The Zen of Bennett supposes, by way of its fly-on-the-wall cinematography, that every utterance from this 86-year-old should be etched in stone and tiled alongside Hollywood's Walk of Fame — to contrast truth with star power. Some of the beauts are: "It's either good music or it's not; it's not opinion"; "we learn everything from nature, nature is the master"; and "too many chiefs, not enough Indians." The latter describes Bennett's attitude whenever his traveling troupe of sons, daughters and music technicians try and tell him what to do. "I only know how to do two things," says Bennett: "sing and paint." But still his producers insist on setting his tempos. His manager convinces him his image is by no means "demographic" and even his wife clutches his shoulder and tells him he's not "going anywhere." The whole show looks exhausting. The only solace Bennett gets is when he's philosophizing and cracking jokes with other people his age — and when he's in front of the mic, which is what this documentary is all about: the music. The hour-and-a-half doc, which is oddly listed on the back of the DVD case as running two-and-a-half hours, tracks Bennett's travels as he records his Duets II album. Again, Bennett wants to transcend "demographics." Conceived by Bennett's son, Danny, and directed by Unjoo Moon, the film combines crisp digital video and black & white collage interludes. It is essentially a behind-the-scenes look at Bennett's interactions with the pop stars of yesteryear and today. Bennett plots to "warn" Amy Winehouse about her drug use but never does, according to the camera. They sing a tumultuous version of "Body and Soul" that comes through the stereo like a joint reading of Charles Dickens by Allen Ginsberg and Ernest Hemingway. The crew travels to Italy so Bennett can, frustratingly, wait for Andrea Bocelli to learn "Stranger in Paradise" in brail. They eventually pull it off, but not before Bennett complains of exhaustion and threatens to abandon the recording. Another glitch occurs during a post-recording press conference with John Mayer, when the mouthy superstar tells the reporter his dad loves Bennett's songs. Bennett interprets this as a breach of his "demographics," or lack thereof, which he so painstakingly tries to protect throughout this whole ordeal. At the end of the day, Bennet is an incredible singer, who, as Tom Robbins would say, doubts the present because he thinks in the past. But his wisdom still rings true with a simplicity that resonates in his most pleasant of songs.

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