ANYONE over the age of 30 probably wouldn't need a karaoke prompter to do an adequate job of singing Save the Last Dance for Me. It's a pop standard that's been recorded by everyone from Ben. E. King to Dolly Parton to Michael Bubl©.
But the story behind the song is one of those great Behind the Music moments of revelation. Tonally, that story is the emotional centrepiece of this entertaining biographical documentary.
The song's lyricist, Doc Pomus, born Jerome Felder in 1925, was a boy who never seemed to stop running and playing when he was growing up in Brooklyn. But a bout with polio left him on crutches and frustrated -- until he started taking solace in blues music, a diversion that led to a brief career as a blues singer.
Eventually, Felder realized there was a more solid livelihood in the field of songwriting. Partnered with Mort Shuman, the newly minted Doc Pomus began a string of hit songs.
This documentary by William Hechter and Peter Miller includes loads of archived and new testimonies from many of Pomus's contemporaries, including Dr. John, Lou Reed, Leiber and Stoller and Dion DeMucci and even Pomus himself (who died in 1991). But the film's most poignant moment comes courtesy of Felder's ex-wife, Broadway actress Willi Burke, who recalls how Felder couldn't dance with her at their wedding, an episode that inspired the lyrics of Save the Last Dance for Me.
At a time when most contemporary music documentaries are expended on the likes of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One Direction, here's a musical bio of tenderness, wit and substance.
The Winnipeg International Jewish Film Festival continues next week with feature films screened at the Rady Centre until Saturday, June 1. Tickets are available by calling 204-477-7510 or online at www.radyjcc.com. The films include:
Balada Le'aviv Ha'bohe (The Ballad of the Weeping Spring), an Israeli production about a man who goes to great lengths to honour the last wishes of a dying friend. Saturday, May 25, 8:00 p.m.
Hava Nagila: The Movie, an American doc about the most recognized piece of Jewish music in all its incarnations. Sunday, May 26, at 7:30 p.m.
Lore, a German/Australia/U.K. co-production about a German girl who must face her own hateful Nazi ideology in the last days of the Third Reich. Monday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m.
No Place on Earth, a German/U.K. co-production about Ukrainian Jews who hid in caves to escape the Nazis in what became the longest recorded (544 days) underground survival in human history. Wednesday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m.
Namess Bageshem (Melting Away), an Israeli drama about a family contending with a transgendered child. Thursday, May 30, at 7:30 p.m
Karua (Torn), an Israel/Poland documentary telling the extraordinary story of Romuald Waszkinel, an ordained Polish Catholic priest who discovers that he was born to Jewish parents, and that his name was Jacob Weksler. Friday, May 31, at 5 p.m.
Ha-Olam Matzhik (The World is Funny), Israel's biggest box-office hit of 2012, a collection of strange vignettes that functions as an allegory on Israeli society. Saturday, June 1, at 8 p.m.