When documentaries focus on likable people who’ve had no public scandals or weird controversies, it’s easy for the films to slide into the realm of the “fluff piece.” There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this style of positive reporting or filmmaking, but there usually isn’t anything exciting about it either. The Sound of My Voice, about the megatalented and highly revered singer Linda Ronstadt, is one of these works. It’s competently made and reasonably interesting, but it’s cursory. Frankly, I’ve seen more depth in episodes of A&E’s “Biography.”
Let me give you an example: It’s the 1970s. Everyone’s on drugs and everyone knows it, including Ronstadt and her band. The subject of substance abuse is usually the meat of any story about that decade and its excesses, but not this time. Drug culture and the issues it brought to big ’70s rock tours are given a mere 90 seconds worth of screen time, which seems disingenuous to me. Sure, Ronstadt probably wasn’t as into that scene as others, but glossing over the entire topic makes me wonder what’s being covered up. Is there more to the story? The cryptic presentation suggests so.
Furthermore, The Sound of My Voice often seems to forget who it’s supposed to be about. The star repeatedly takes a back seat while others use her life and career to tell stories of their own accomplishments. The bland talking-head format paints Ronstadt as a secondary character in her own life, and as the film moves from one of her milestones to the next, the chapters are told with little fuss and no flourish. The stories are in there somewhere, but the superficial way in which they’re presented leaves much to be desired. I half expected a commercial break to interrupt the programming.
I like Linda Ronstadt. I think most people do, but The Sound of My Voice does her amazing talent no justice. She deserves to have her story told in a way that reflects her artistry and sense of style — not the watered-down glance we’re given here. Fans who aren’t looking for an in-depth examination of an artist or an era will probably find nothing to fault, but won’t be given much to remember, either.
Starts Sept. 13 at Grail Moviehouse