“Everyone has three lives,
The public, the private and the secret.”
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Singer, songwriter, and activist Joan Baez, now eighty-two years old, has led a creative and complicated life filled with musical and political expression. Although her musical repertoire is wide, her most loyal fans seem to love her traditional folksongs rendered through her pure soprano voice.
Joan Baez: I Am a Noise is an ambitious documentary directed by Miri Navasky, Maeve O’Boyle, and Karen O’Connor. It is part concert film, as the filmmakers follow Baez on her farewell concert tour. But to those expecting a typical biopicture chronicling the different periods of her music career, the film will come as a surprise.
The dominant focus of the documentary is her many difficult public and private lives – as well as one “secret.” She is the daughter of a Mexican-born father and a Scottish-born mother; he was a physicist and she, a writer. Joan was the middle sister between the oldest Pauline and the youngest, Mimi. The whole family could sing, and Joan shares her personal archive of home movies, journals, artwork, and audio recordings. She addresses the competition with Mimi and the difficulties in their careers.
Behind it all looms the secret of her life. Baez is transparent about her repressed memories of being abused by her father. She lived with panic attacks even at the height of her fame. She confesses to emotional struggles in her relationships, while wistfully remembering her heartbreaking romance with Bob Dylan.
If one-on-one intimacy was not a strong suit, passion for justice and civil rights made up for it. She talks about her work with Martin Luther King and the impact of some of her most famous songs, many of which advocated nonviolence.
This is a raw portrait of the legendary singer and activist. It obviously took courage to make and endorse, and her fans will salute her honesty.