The Amazing Nina Simone celebrates the skilled singer

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      A documentary by Jeff L. Lieberman. Rating unavailable

      Nina Simone remains someone for whom the adjective amazing is no exaggeration. Her charisma, technical virtuosity, skill at self-invention, civil-rights activism, and courage in the face of humbling odds have ensured that she will never go out of fashion. How many other artists have had two full-length documentaries and a feature film devoted to them within a single year?

      The better-known doc, Liz Garbus’s What Happened, Miss Simone?, made with the involvement of Simone’s estate, had access to her diaries and tapes. The Amazing doc, written, shot, and directed by Jeff L. Lieberman, a Vancouverite now based in New York, is far less polished than that Netflix production, although his rough assemblage, even with its notably bad graphic design, does illuminate a lot of what went right for Miss Simone.

      There are many performance and audio clips, including very early stuff and key songs the other effort missed. His straightforward chronology allows fans to see how quickly things happened for Eunice Waymon, a North Carolina piano prodigy who attended Juilliard and fell into jazz almost by accident. Pushed by a club owner to sing to her own accompaniment, she took a new name so her church-preaching mother wouldn’t find out.

      Lieberman uses two of the singer’s brothers and Vancouver guitarist Henry Young, among many others, to paint clear pictures of the transformation, while ignoring some obvious questions, like if and how the Waymons reacted when Eunice shot up the charts with her definitive version of “I Loves You, Porgy” in 1958.

      The film is light on information about the mental disturbances that gradually consumed her career and private life. It misses her own voice, and while Lieberman’s narration isn’t bad, it lacks an authoritative stamp to match his subject’s magnitude. Still, as with Simone herself, there’s more here to celebrate than regret.