Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Tony Bennett Documentary: Legalize Drugs, Learn Something New Always


Amy Winehouse’s dad, Mitch, was in New York last night for the premiere screening of “The Zen of Bennett,” the moving new documentary about Tony Bennett made by his manager son, Danny. Some parts of “The Zen of Bennett” had already appeared in a promotional film about Tony Bennett’s latest duets album. But Mitch Winehouse told me he’d been too upset to watch the earlier video of his late daughter and Tony sing “Body and Soul.”

Watching it tonight was upsetting, and he wanted to make sure fans understood that Amy had been off drugs for three weeks before she died. “She was nervous about singing with Tony and went back to drinking a bit,” Mitch said. “And that’s what started her toward the end. But people have to realize it’s an illness. If Amy’s grandmother had come down from heaven in a flaming chariot and ordered her to stop drinking, it wouldn’t have worked.”

I liked Mitch Winehouse. He’s a straight shooter. He’s written a book being published by HarperCollins on July 5th. He’s also  started a serious foundation in Amy’s memory, registered here in the US as a 501 c3. It’s going to raise money for kids, schools, and housing in New Orleans. It’s not a fly by night operation. He’s got a phalanx of reputable people helping him. As for more Amy Winehouse releases, he’s unsure what the future holds. “We’re not going to do anything else unless it’s right,” he told me. He’s still very much in touch with Amy’s producer, Mark Ronson.

“The Zen of Bennett” was already bought by Netflix, where it will be available soon. Tony, who had not seen the film before tonight, was overwhelmed. He introduced his long time friend, Harry Belafonte, from the audience. He introduced Mitch Winehouse and Lady Gaga’s parents. (Lady Gaga is amazing in this film.)  Most of the Bennett family was present, and very proud. The film shows Tony recording his ‘”Duets II” album but also talking about his land his philosophies. He’s very adamant about the legalization of drugs.

Someone asked him if he’d ever record a duet with Britney Spears. “I don’t know what she does,” he replied honestly. He has a good point.  He said his favorite artist was Pablo Casals, who told him to live every day to the fullest. He said he took notes from Oprah’s final show about learning from your mistakes. He said the only artist he wished he’d recorded with was Louis Armstrong. He praised Amy Winehouse–you could see he was very impressed with her when they recorded, and she was sober. He really said she was his favorite new artist from “Elvis Presley to the Beatles to whatever else happened after that.”

This is a DVD to buy, not just rent. “The Zen of Bennett” is a gem, as is Tony–who sings better than ever at 85, and is a positive life force. Do not miss his discussion of Dinah Washington with Amy. Or Aretha Franklin’s or John Mayer’s duets with him in this film.

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Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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