Florence Foster Jenkins - (A) World of Her Own

Florence was no nightingale but her story makes compulsive viewing

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Florence Foster Jenkins - (A) World of Her Own

It's ironic that one of the best-known singers in recording history should also be one of the worst. Who has not got in their collection an example of her art? Who does not revere her name as the prima donna assoluta of awfulness, the queen of the promissory note? Who, after listening to her, has not asked “why”? Well, here is the answer.

Donald Collup has put together the whole mysterious story, unearthed photographs and reviews (some not seen for more than 60 years), tracked down audio interviews of those who knew La Jenkins (including her faithful accompanist Cosme McMoon) and who saw and heard her perform, researched her family background and created a documentary that finally tells the unvarnished truth about the phenomenon that was Florence Foster Jenkins.

She was born Nascina Florence Foster into a prosperous family in Pennsylvania in 1868. She became a child prodigy pianist, then married a Dr Jenkins, 16 years older than herself. The relationship quickly foundered, not least because he infected her with syphilis and it may well be that her subsequent inability to pitch notes was caused by treatment of the disease (“one night with Venus, a lifetime with mercury”). The rest of the tale is told with exemplary clarity and without resource to irony or sarcasm. Of course, she was a hoot. Yet one is left at the end of the film (one of the few I can recall without any moving footage at all) feeling slightly uneasy that we are laughing at someone quite unable to see the extent of her self-delusion and unable to hear properly.

Collup is to be heartily congratulated on all of the three roles he has undertaken for this venture. VAI has at last spruced up its presentation, and with any luck the DVD will sell like the Melotone shellacs on which are enshrined this enduring paragon of triumphant disaster.

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