Title: Sing Your Song
Director: Susanne Rostock
Starring: Harry Belafonte
A tribute to the artist Harry Belafonte, Sing Your Song documents the rise of the Calypso music star in 1950’s New York to worldwide campaigner for human rights.
The problem with Belafonte is that he was too damn popular back in his day. Billboard topping commercial artist, Broadway heartthrob to controversial Hollywood star, all sides of the man are represented in the opening forty minutes of the picture in a deluge of material. Yes, we get a portrait of an artist but there is no penetration to a deeper understanding of Belafonte’s artistic drive.
The documentation suffers from the same problem for the remaining sixty minutes. Belafonte’s social activism was extensive, from his civil rights campaigning to his criticism of the Bush administration, but the film reduces forty years of an extraordinary activist’s life to flash footage. To Rostock, a focus on a specific social cause that the artist engaged in would have done the man an injustice. For the viewer it is like settling into a night of This Is Your Life.
Belafonte’s meeting and friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King is barely touched upon. Because of this association with Dr. King he was on the C.I.A’s blacklist and spied upon by a man whom he believed was his psychologist. Not so very clever tactics by the C.I.A to uncover the objectives of the Civil Rights Movement. Truly bizarre but again something with this much scope for the filmmaker to explore is left isolated. This interference led to the breakup of Belafonte’s first marriage, yet nothing else is given to the viewer. No probe into the effect of a public life on the family realm was undertaken by Rostock and the picture suffers from this lack of questioning throughout.
Sometimes it needs a feature film for the extraordinary achievements of a life to be realised by the masses. Sing Your Song does exactly this by cementing Harry Belafonte’s legacy and his involvement in so much humanitarian causes of the past forty years. After these years of tireless crusading, Belafonte leaves the picture more disillusioned than proud. His stare is firmly set on further societal injustices. This restlessness is the closest we get to any true personal view of Harry’s on his own life. Ultimately however, the rich archival footage of Rostock’s picture makes this an enjoyable homage to a very talented man who used his artistic popularity tirelessly for the benefit of others.
In a Nutshell: More tribute than documentary, an overview of a tireless social activist in all its fullest sense.
by Sean Finnan