Review: Tribeca Film Festival debut of 'Zen' is as much about age as it is entertainment
Most of Tony Bennett’s family, Lady Gaga’s parents, Amy Winehouse’s parents and even Harry Belafonte were on hand for the premiere of “The Zen of Bennett” on Monday night, making a one-show-only bow at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was a temperate all-ages event, but it's fine if it wasn't too flashy: “Conceived, created, and produced by his son,” the documentary was what Danny Bennett described as a “love letter” to his 85-year-old father.
The 84-minute portrait covers the period during which Bennett collaborated with more than a dozen popular artists for his “Duets II” album, his most commercially successful full-length studio album in his 70 years performing. While it tries to encompass a lot of personal history – like his dad’s origins in Podàrgoni, Italy, or his front-lines experience with death in the service during WWII – most of Bennett’s “Zen” unfolds like an archival, of-the-moment record of Bennett, Octogenarian.
The singer recounts little stories told to him by Duke Ellington or zingers from Fred Astaire, as he shrewdly negotiates tempos with the band and amps up his other passion and pasttime, painting. His “I remember…” moments were balanced out with the minor trifles of the modern music business: like an older family relative, Bennett would repeat himself in order to get a joke about his tie to land. He shows cranky impatience when Andrea Boccelli keeps him waiting and when Michael Buble vocally steps on his toes. He'd always wanted to record duets with Louis Armstrong but never got to.
In one scene, Bennett haggles with Danny and his other handlers when he felt slighted by perpetual mid-careerist John Mayer, who made some comment about his mother’s admiration for the multi-generational star. But even before moment unfolded, I couldn’t but help to think to myself, “Man, my dad’s gonna love this movie.”