Judge Jesse Ataide attempts (and subsequently fails) a review in A Minor.
"Alicia Keys' artistic light is so bright it could illuminate a pitch-black room."—corny DVD pitch line
It didn't take long after the release of the single "Fallin'" in 2001 for Alicia Keys to find both popular or critical success. Her smooth blend of soul and hip-hop infused with jazz and classical influences effortlessly trapeze between musical genres, appealing to a diverse fan base. Grammy voters were also impressed, bestowing on her debut album Songs in A Minor five awards, including Song of the Year (for "Fallin'"), Best R&B Vocal Album, and the coveted trophy for Best New Artist of the Year. The Diary of Alicia Keys documents Keys's world tour in the wake of her recent success, and features the artist at work at the keyboard, prepping for concerts, and performing live for huge crowds, as well as messing around with friends and crewmembers backstage and exploring the beautiful international cities in which she plays.
What's immediately apparent is that Keys is not the brainless and out-of-touch person we like to think most celebrities are when they're not performing in front of an audience or acting in front of a camera. Keys is obviously a dedicated musician intent on balancing her classical training with a contemporary style in an effort to craft a musical voice uniquely her own, and if she hasn't already achieved her goal, she's well on her way.
It's also obvious that Keys is a funny and gracious person in real life (or does a remarkable job acting when the camera is directed at her), and the best moments of the film are when she directs her comments directly at the camera and addresses the viewer directly. She's at her most charming when she takes the camera on a tour of a penthouse suite at a luxury hotel in North Africa, giggling and joking as she points out various paintings and pieces of furniture in the numerous rooms.
On a more ironic note, it's interesting that while Keys is touted as a welcome alternative to numerous bustier-wearing, navel-barring flavor-of-the-month pop stars, Keys sports just as much flesh in The Diary of Alicia Keys as we'd expect from a Britney, Christina,or other look-alike music act. Not that her magnificent swimwear-clad body isn't appreciated every time it appears on screen—but it's just another reminder that popular music these days is just as much about selling the image as it is the music. Sadly, this even holds true for an unbelievably talented musician like Ms. Keys, whose music more than speaks for itself.
The film is presented in full screen, and for the most part the picture is crisp and clean (or as crisp and clean as video can be). The audio is decent, though perhaps if more music had been integrated into the film its shortcoming would have been more obvious. Extras? French and Spanish subtitles are the only things listed (which received a good laugh from this reviewer).
On to the disappointing aspects of this pseudo-documentary. For one, the music that has made Keys so famous in the first place is conspicuously missing. While there is quite a bit of footage of practicing and live performances (often cleverly edited together to present both the backstage experimentation and on-stage finished project simultaneously), the music is never focused upon. Snatches of recognizable songs begin to play suddenly, and disappear just as quickly.
If fans are looking for a deep exploration of the person behind the music, they'll probably walk away sorely disappointed. The whole purpose of the film seems to be to provide a fun behind-the-scenes look at the artist's life while on tour, and not a means for personal examination.
Non-fans need not tune in; those already familiar with the music and want to see the driving force behind it will probably enjoy a brief look into the life of a world-class musician and an overall unique person.
And finally, on a personal note, it was comforting to know that despite all her music skills, good looks, and fat bank account, Alicia is just as bad of a water skier as I am. Nothing like a little failure from a famous person to boost the self-esteem.
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