by Ken Korman
It’s hard to imagine a more suitable title than The Zen of Bennett for this warm and inviting documentary portrait of now 85-year-old singer and painter Tony Bennett. Created by Bennett’s son Danny, the film centers on the recording of the 2011 album Duets II, which had the singer collaborating in-studio with artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Willie Nelson. The vocal performances are extraordinary, but the film finds its purpose in Bennett’s low-key musings on the value of beauty and authenticity in art. It can be heartbreaking to see Bennett put his hard-won perspective into action: When Amy Winehouse shows up at the studio overcome with performance anxiety, Bennett quietly catches her eye and tells her a true story about Dinah Washington, who was one of her idols. Winehouse snaps out of her funk and delivers an astonishing performance. It’s a wonderfully spontaneous moment, and a fitting tribute to a remarkable man.
The Zen of Bennett runs through December 13 at Zeitgest Movies, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. in New Orleans. Screenings are at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each day, except no 7:30 screening on Monday, December 10.