- Film & TV
- 19 Jul 19
Ron Howard's ebullient documentary celebrates the celebrity and the voice - but does it get to the man?
Documentarian Asif Kapadia has explored the lives and careers of Diego Maradona, Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna – individuals of extraordinary talent and a complex inner life. He’s a master at creating compelling narratives, addressing not just his subjects, but the cultural context that created them – and sometimes, destroyed them, too.
Watching Ron Howard’s celebratory, crowd-pleasing, hagiographic documentary Pavarotti, I wished I could see Kapadia’s interpretation of the same facts, to get a glimpse into the real story.
Made in collaboration with Pavarotti’s family, Howard charts how the son of an Italian baker went on to become the most celebrated opera singer of the 20th century. Using beautiful family photographs, home videos and archive footage - including Pavarotti’s debut in La Bohème at the Teatro Municipale in 1961 - Howard’s story can be divided into three parts: Pavarotti discovering his voice; the world discovering his voice; and how Pavarotti used his voice in unexpected ways.
Pavarotti’s effortless, rafter-shaking high C’s made him an incomparable tenor, but it was his irrepressible charisma that made him a star. Howard captures Pavarotti’s boisterous charm, his mischievous sense of humour, and his loving nature that enamoured him to his family, fans and celebrity friends like Princess Diana, and also led him to use his fame to promote various charitable causes.
Interviewing his old managers, Howard explores how Pavarotti made opera mainstream, including his unprecedented success with The Three Tenors, whose debut performance on the eve of the Italia ‘90 final is shown in its joyful, spine-tingling glory.
But he glosses over any complications to the narrative, including Pavarotti’s heavily criticised celebrity collaborations, his temper, and the troubling power dynamics of his two (documented) affairs with women several decades younger than him. At one point, Bono refers to Pavarotti as “one of the great emotional arm-wrestlers of all time,” a subtly barbed comment that alludes to an unrelenting and single-minded character that Howard is reluctant to show.