While on one coast the Tribeca Film Festival was opening with a well-received music documentary The Apollo, Ron Howard’s latest foray into documentary filmmaking, Pavarotti, was unveiled on the other coast Wednesday evening for a capacity screening at CAA. The audience was an invited industry crowd that also included several Oscar voters, who responded with strong applause to this definitive film portrait of the opera legend that had the crowd singing its praises at the reception afterward.
CBS Films, in one of their final releases, will be opening the film June 7, and as one staff member said, “We are going out with a bang.” That’s an understatement as this effort from Howard, who previously helmed music-oriented docus on Jay Z and the Beatles, who has really hit it out of the park with this penetrating and emotionally powerful portrait of Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian tenor who transformed the world of opera and became an international superstar. This is a no-holds barred portrait of the artist and the man, and it ought to have even non-opera lovers riveted.
That was certainly the reaction I got from the crowd at the CAA reception that included 10-time Oscar nominee Diane Warren, musicians Steve Perry and Shania Twain, music industry execs like Peter Asher, and numerous other notables who showed up to get a peek at what Howard had in store. Also on hand were CAA’s Richard Lovett, Howard’s partner and producer Brian Grazer, and more.
Howard introduced the film and said it was actually producer Nigel Sinclair — ironically in New York for The Apollo, on which he is an executive producer, and with whom Howard collaborated on The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years — who suggested he tackle the story of Pavarotti. After finding a way into the subject, Howard and his team were game. It makes for a compelling musical journey indeed, and the archival footage of Pavarotti’s performances around the globe is simply astonishing taken in this context. The sound mix is exceptional, and Howard has expertly made all the right moves in how the music and footage is weaved in and out of new interviews including with Pavarotti’s children and wives.
Howard modestly told me afterwards that something like this only works if people want to cooperate and tell the story, and in this case they really did in creating a portrayal of an artist that encompasses every aspect of a complex and celebrated life. Howard also thanked the writers including Mark Monroe (The Cove), and CBS Films and its chief Terry Press, for seeing the theatrical release possibilities in the Pavarotti saga. The accompanying soundtrack is sure to be a bestseller.
There is a review embargo in place for now, so I can’t go into any more detail on my own reaction just yet other than to add that this one has real Oscar possibilities if it can get past the not always predictable tastes of the Academy’s documentary branch members who often wrongly ignore music docus and showbiz tales. The fact they overlooked such brilliant works like Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers and Filmworker last season alone gives me pause. But I will say if it does get nominated, Pavarotti is just powerful and mouth-watering enough to be a real contender. Certainly it should be rapturously received when it opens in June.
Howard won’t be here then, as he told me, because he will be on location making the film adaptation of the J.D. Vance bestseller Hillbilly Elegy with Glenn Close, Amy Adams and Gabriel Basso. He says his later career interest in documentaries really has much in common with the scripted narrative films he is best known for: Both tell stories, and it is just a matter of how you tell them that counts.