A documentary by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Rating unavailable
Like most docs these days, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice begins with a kind of trailer for itself, this one compressing the subject’s spectacularly varied, five-decade career into a quick blip. If the remaining 90 minutes aren’t quite as exciting, it’s definitely not the singer’s fault.
Oscar-winning directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have tackled complicated subjects before, most notably in The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet. Maybe they’re just overawed by the subject, although they do have plenty of good material to work with, not least of which is Ronstadt’s own unfailingly straightforward, sometimes tart narration.
Although Parkinson’s disease has kept her from singing for the past decade, and has slightly fattened her speaking voice, she’s ebullient in describing her Mexican-American childhood in Arizona. “We grew up thinking people sang in Spanish and spoke in English,” she recalls, off-screen. Her multi-culti nature would assert itself later, after conquering the pop, folk, rock, and country arenas (literally), when she bucked industry advice to make records reflecting her father’s devotion to canciones and her mom’s love of jazz and light opera.
We could use more insight into how Ronstadt managed to navigate and conquer the male-dominated world of rock studios and stages. (One of her earliest touring bands became the Eagles). Mainly, it grows wearying to hear mogul David Geffen, producer Peter Asher, cohort Jackson Brown, filmmaker Cameron Crowe, and other major dudes congratulate themselves on recognizing what a monster talent she was and would be. More valuable indeed are the female colleagues she championed and performed with. Emmylou Harris recalls how Ronstadt “pulled her out of a dark time” and fellow trio harmonist Dolly Parton touts her perfectionism, “as opposed to my own way, which ain’t always proper, but it sounds good.”
Ronstadt sounded so good in so many styles, in a pre-Gaga era, she was sometimes dismissed as more commercial than authentic—a song finder, not a writer. But what really shines through this uneven retrospect is her no-bullshit personality. She did everything on her own terms, and accomplished far too much to fit into just one feature film.