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“Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing.” – Florence Foster Jenkins
The movie chronicles the real-life story of the American socialite and amateur soprano of the 1920s to 40s who was known for putting on performances where she sang quite poorly. Meryl Streep’s depiction was fabulous (as usual). As the film progresses, I couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably at how bad a singer Jenkins was. Then, at other times, I sympathized with her and had a huge amount of respect for her bravery and passion. I suspect that because of this last point, I at times found some parts of her performances to be “acceptable” and pleasing…but I must stress that it was just very small parts:)!
What I find fascinating about this film is that it goes completely contrary to the regular story-telling pattern of a music bio film. Normally, a musician portrayed in a typical film is blessed with an immense amount of talent and they’re revered at some point in their career by an adoring audience. This film instead is about a talentless person, yet astonishingly, there seems to be somewhat of an adoring audience of her.
As a musician, I found the many themes that the film explored to hit very close to home. The most important thing that stood out was the immense joy that music brought to Jenkins’ life. There was nothing else she could ever imagine herself doing other than being a performer and patron of music. Her absolute love for music was so strong, that it made her blind to realizing that she was not very good.
But what constitutes “good”? The world of music (especially classical and jazz) has laid out very stringent standards of what is a good performance, and what is bad. It must be especially difficult for singers because intonation is so crucial…just a microtone off and everyone shudders in horror.
Is there any redeeming quality to Jenkins’ performance? Many high profile people of her day thought so. According to her wikipedia page, Cole Porter, Sir Thomas Beecham and Enrico Caruso were just some of the prominent musicians who were her fans. The cynical part of me thinks that they were fans just because they wanted her patronage for their own music careers. But there’s another part of me that thinks that they enjoyed her performances because they admired her bravery and her limitless love of music. A musician (especially great ones) never takes those things for granted.
So what can we all learn from this great musician, Florence Foster Jenkins? Music is for everyone, not just the “talented”. Music should not be over-standardized…this creates mental roadblocks from enjoying it further. Music must start with love and passion…anything after that is just a bonus.