July 15, 2024

Music documentaries are a great way to lure potential new subscribers to streaming platforms and the latest, I Am Celine Dion, taps into the mega-fanbase of global superstar Celine Dion.

Director Irene Taylor also has extraordinary access to the singer through her recent illness, dropping out of the spotlight following a rare Stiff Person Syndrome diagnosis.

Confronting is the word for the most extreme scenes filmed here, when cameras watch Dion in a full seizure moment in her home, but surrounded by a medical team. True fans will watch in horror at what their icon endures -it’s distressing stuff.

The 90 minute doco captures Dion at home, complemented by archival footage on stage, and in a determined step back into a recording studio. There is also home movie footage of Dion as a young woman and teen, including her very early dream, “All I want to do is sing all my life.”

But with Stiff Person Syndrome, this is cruelly taken away. And there you have your dramatic premise for this documentary, which is echoed fleetingly in the demise of Maria Callas’ vocals.

Indeed Dion is seen recording her message to fans where she bows out from the spotlight to focus on her health. She concedes there were lies and excuses to cover for the diminishing health and vocal stamina, until it was time to come clean.

“The lie is too heavy now.”

Going on stage is easy, she insists. Cancelling a show is not.

“Music. I miss it a lot, but also people, I miss them,” she reveals.

“My voice was the conductor of my life. I was following it.”

The documentary looks to have filmed over an extensive period, including with diagnosis, leaving centrestage, recuperating and attempting first new steps.

It draws upon footage -but not too much- around the death of husband René in 2016. For one who sings power ballads, there is lot of lived experience to inject into performance.

Cameras follow her at home recuperating and in rehabilition trying to strengthen muscles, fighting against a debilitating nerve condition, relaxing with her children and labrador, and commentating on archival performance footage.

“When your voice brings you joy, you’re the best of yourself.”

This includes a substantial segment around John Farnham, generously included for his songs Help and You’re the Voice, including a duet performed in Australia. No other singer gets anywhere near the screen time of Farnham.

Whilst Dion is portrayed as very secure in stage managing her life and career, SPS pulls the rug out from under her. The doco makes the most of these contrasts, constantly reminding you of her sheer vocal strength and stardom, contrasted by a private hell, removed of costumery and even any basic make-up.

That Dion allowed cameras to film her at her most vulnerable is impossible to ignore.

The doco also comes as a soundtrack is dropped (sans Farnham duet) which shows there is still great stage management of merchandise, but you can’t help but want to dive back into her rich adult contemporary library and hope she is able to overcome all odds to give us all what she -and we- most desire.

I Am Celine Dion screens Tuesday June 25 on Prime Video.

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